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DVD Review: IL DIVO


Studio: MPI
Year: 2008
Cast: Toni Servillo, Anna Bonaiuto, Giulio Bosetti
Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Release Date: November 6, 2009, 9:46 am
Rating: Not Rated for
Run Time: 01h:57m:48s

"Irony is the best cure against death." - Giulio Andreotti (Toni Servillo)

IL DIVO
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An epic telling of the life and times of one of Italy's most notorious politicians.

Movie Grade: A-

DVD Grade: B

If you just pay casual attention to Italian politics, it seems that they run through prime ministers like Kleenex—that is, unless Silvio Berlusconi can remain unindicted long enough to grease the wheels of power with money and influence. Il Divo is a look at the career of Giulio Andreotti, seven-time Italian Prime Minister, and alleged and acquitted Mafioso—it's a startling study in Machiavellian political machinations, though for those of us who are not Italian citizens, some of it can be impenetrable.

Part of that, no doubt, is because of the character of Andreotti himself. One could make the case that he's a monster, or a sociopath, or a common criminal; many have. Director Paolo Sorrentino works up some empathy for the man, but it's a challenge, because Andreotti in office seems to have been deliberately opaque, and willfully lacking in self-reflection. There's a shark-like quality to him, and a claustrophobic character to his governance—he wants power because he wants it, not because he wants to accomplish anything in particular (or so it seems), and so there's a lot of conspiratorial angling and power plays, the overheated, gossipy environment of a palace. The apt comparison is to Oliver Stone's Nixon, in which a seemingly off-putting political figure from the 1970s is given new cinematic empathy.

You can see that Sorrentino has gone to school on Scorsese and Coppola—it's that wonderful cocktail of blood and pasta that's so enticing in so many great American and Italian films. It may claim too much to put this along side movies like GoodFellas and The Godfather, though, as it resides in much more of a hothouse. Toni Servillo is a galvanizing central presence as Andreotti, a fireball of ambition hidden by his jowls and big glasses, with a neck that doesn't move; he has to pivot his whole body to give you his attention, and he does and he will. The film is full of great telling details, like the fact that Andreotti met his wife in a graveyard—she's very much the Pat Nixon of the piece, and you sense that neither the Prime Minister nor the film itself is much interested in the family doings of the Andreottis.

The ghost hovering over the piece, much like Banquo to the Macbeths, is Aldo Moro, the Italian politician kidnapped and killed by terrorists with whom Andreotti refused to negotiate. Was this hardline politics, or an opportunistic, grisly way to get rid of an enemy? It clearly troubles Andreotti's conscience, and is the sin that won't wash away. It's one of those movies that's so high on style that it's easy to claim too much for it, though there's no denying that it is almost always wickedly entertaining.

A few extras offer more insight into the filmmaking than into the politics, making the package a modest disappointment for those of us on this side of the Atlantic, or for any potential audience member who is not an Andreottiologist. A making-of piece (31m:06s) vouches for historical accuracy, with lots on makeup and hair; a special effects featurette (7m:17s) covers some of the same ground, as does an interview (12m:13s) with the director. An a package of deleted scenes is little more than snippets, people walking in and out of rooms, hanging up the phone, and so on.

Jon Danziger November 6, 2009, 9:46 am