Il Divo (Music Box Films, NR)

film_il-divo_sm.gifIl Divo is an astonishing movie about an astonishing man, and the greatest marvel may be that it was made at all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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When we first see Giulio Andreotti (Toni Servillo) in Paolo Sorrentino’s film Il Divo, he looks like Pinhead from Hellraiser. Although a voiceover assures us the needles bristling from his face are acupuncture treatments for headache, it’s an appropriate introduction to this larger-than-life figure whom many regard as a demon from hell. Andreotti served as Prime Minister of Italy for most of two decades, but is also suspected (although never convicted) of collaboration with the Mafia and responsibility for the murder of numerous political rivals and opponents.

Il Divo is an astonishing movie about an astonishing man, and the greatest marvel may be that it was made at all. Andreotti is still living (he was made senator for life in 1991), as are many people portrayed in this film. Equally impressive is the fact that Sorrentino avoids the dreary conventions of the biopic in favor of a cheeky mix of music montages, dramatic re-enactments and hilariously deadpan takes which give the story the flavor of The Godfather played as a black comedy. And that’s an appropriate analogy, since the character of Don Licio Lucchese from The Godfather Part III is widely believed to be based on Andreotti.

I’m no expert on modern Italian politics and I certainly don’t know all the characters who appear in Il Divo (even though many are helpfully identified by chyrons), nor am I familiar with many of the incidents portrayed. But that didn’t inhibit my enjoyment of Il Divo in the slightest; there won’t be a pop quiz at the end of the film, and details aren’t really the point anyway. The meaning of each scene is crystal clear and their cumulative effect is simultaneously hilarious and chilling. Besides, nobody really knows what happened in much of what is portrayed in the film; if they did, there would be a lot more people in jail. Or, as Andreotti puts it, "You always find the culprit in crime novels but not always in real life." Well spoken by a man who puts Ronald Reagan to shame when it comes to political Teflon.

Andreotti has earned many nicknames which reflect his place in the public imagination, including Belzebù (Beelzebub, i.e., the prince of demons) and The Black Pope as well as Il Divo: the latter literally means "the divine one" and was once applied to Julius Caesar, but also recalls the stars of grand opera and their insatiable need for attention (it’s the male equivalent of "diva").

Speaking of opera, the story of Andreotti is crying out for treatment in that medium. The spoken word can’t begin to encompass the extremes of his character nor the contradictions of the country in which he has prospered. Until that opera is written, we have Sorrentino’s film in which the soundtrack by Teho Teardo is essential in providing an interpretative context for the dialogue, with Trio’s "Da da da" an inspired choice for the end titles (which basically tell us that Andreotti was acquitted again, again and again). Cinematography by Luca Bigazzi is equally inspired, drawing on a vast body of cinematic techniques but relying most often on shots as carefully composed as paintings in a gallery. | Sarah Boslaugh

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