Powerful Mystery Man Of Italian Politics

Toni Servillo i i

Like A Rock: An unflappable Toni Servillo as Giulio Andreotti, escorted by police. Music Box Films hide caption

itoggle caption Music Box Films
Toni Servillo

Like A Rock: An unflappable Toni Servillo as Giulio Andreotti, escorted by police.

Music Box Films

Il Divo

  • Director: Paolo Sorrentino
  • Genre: Foreign
  • Running Time: 119 minutes

Unrated: Murder, suicide, profanity

Recommended

Toni Servillo 2 i i

Taken In Stride: Servillo has worked with director Paolo Sorrentino on three previous films. Music Box Films hide caption

itoggle caption Music Box Films
Toni Servillo 2

Taken In Stride: Servillo has worked with director Paolo Sorrentino on three previous films.

Music Box Films

A brash yet astute tour of big-league political corruption, Il Divo can be appreciated purely as virtuosic filmmaking. The enjoyment would be enhanced, however, by familiarity with such characters as Giulio Andreotti, Aldo Moro and Mino Pecorelli — none of them household names outside Italy.

The face of Andreotti, who served as Italy's prime minister multiple times and is currently senator for life, both opens and closes the movie. In his first appearance, he gradually lifts his head as his voice-over explains that he's outlived many enemies, yet can't shake his persistent migraines. As the political boss comes into view, his latest remedy is revealed: His head is a pincushion of acupuncture needles.

This image, both ominous and comic, is a fitting introduction to the movie's central character. As brilliantly impersonated by Toni Servillo, Andreotti is not an imposing figure. He has floppy ears, waxy skin, a stiff manner and permanently hunched shoulders. Yet he also possesses dry wit and eerie self-control. He barely reacts when he encounters a graffito accusing him and a close ally of some of the murders that punctuate the story.

Writer-director Paolo Sorrentino flashes the names and occupations of the movie's characters on the screen, presenting the ID's as playfully as Slumdog Millionaire did its subtitles. But the film would still benefit from a supplementary study guide. There are a lot of people to distinguish, and a dizzying range of circumstances.

Aldo Moro, for example, was a former prime minister killed by leftist would-be revolutionaries after Andreotti refused to negotiate with them. Mino Pecorelli, an investigative journalist, was murdered by hitmen — who allegedly took their orders from Andreotti.

At one point, Andreotti jokes mirthlessly that he's been blamed for everything that's gone wrong in Italian history except the Punic Wars. Sorrentino doesn't go that far back, but he does detail a lot of dubious connections, entwining the Mafia, the Vatican and a notorious Masonic lodge that caters to unrepentant fascists.

For his part, Andreotti gripes that people no longer appreciate what he and his cohorts did to save a devastated postwar Italy from the Soviets. (In one funny flashback, he visits Moscow and finds himself sleeping under a massive portrait of Karl Marx.) The prime minister also insists, more than once, that he believes in "the will of God." Yet he isn't inclined to wait around for divine intervention.

Taking full advantage of the imposing buildings that house the Italian ruling class, Sorrentino swoops his camera down long hallways and through massive drawing rooms. The fluid tracking shots and extreme angles recall Martin Scorsese, as does the movie's ironic use of pop songs. But Andreotti trudges through palaces, not casinos, and the director alternates opulent Vivaldi with Trio's offhand "Da Da Da."

Sorrentino's indictment can be seen as an upscale companion piece to Gomorrah, the recent film about Mafia foot soldiers. But where that film's unrelieved grimness was wearying, Il Divo is as frisky as it is alarming.

While the movie includes outbursts of violence, some of its most devastating scenes involve hushed moments of sudden recognition or insistent denial. Andreotti's story may be specifically Italian, but one of his refrains is universal. As various associates are taken away by the police, the accused politician keeps protesting, "I don't remember."

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