“The divine one”? Giulio Andreotti wasn’t a saint, a singer or a football star, but arguably the most important politician in post-WWII Italy. If he could be considered divine, that would be more of a reflection on his longevity at the top than his merit or sanctity. Andreotti was Prime Minister seven times and a government minister 19 times.
Writer-director Paolo Sorrentino (The Consequences of Love) gives us flashbacks to 1978 – when Andreotti's Christian Democrat leader Aldo Moro was kidnapped and murdered by the Red Brigade – but concentrates on the latter half of Andreotti’s career, when the allegations of corruption that had always plagued him began to really bite.
Very different in style and substance from the Peter Morgan approach to political biopic, the Cannes jury prize winner “Il Divo” is hyper stylised, more like a Scorsese gangster epic. That reflects the woeful state of Italian politics (it is said that the character of a Mafia-controlled politician in “Godfather III” is based on Andreotti), though it’s also in keeping with the flashy, “look at me” camerawork Sorrentino has favoured in his other movies.
Fast forward, slow motion, dazzling Steadicam shots and breakneck editing – the director gives us the works here. One sequence turns into a sexy music video. Another montage of violent mafia deaths is shot in striking staccato images scored to a blast of pure punk. Fans of the Coen brothers and Danny Boyle will rave, although it’s well nigh impossible to keep up with the dizzying pace with which Sorrentino rifles through the political and courtroom archives.
At the centre of all this ceaseless motion is Sorrentino regular Toni Servillo, as still and cryptic as a spider at the centre of his web. Almost unrecognizable, with his head poking out from his shoulders as if he had no neck (Andreotti is hunchbacked) and his ears pinned forward like Nosferatu’s, Servillo exults in his character’s cerebral arrogance and deflecting wit. He’s a bit like Shakespeare’s Richard II. The man has no conscience, his every instinct is political – in a sense, he is the purest of all politicians (as well as one of the dirtiest, if the film is right). For that he offers no apology, only an enigmatic shrug. That may be all there is to him after all these years. He stands for nothing else. Even Margaret Thatcher commented on his disdain for anything resembling principle.
The movie slows down some in the last half hour, revisiting many of the incidents alluded to in the first half but from a more critical distance. The ironical tone is not all that different though. Cynicism is one quality the filmmaker and his subject seem to share.
A single viewing probably isn’t enough to get the measure of this frenetic, bruising satire. Andreotti – in his nineties now, but still a senator – has gone on record to express his displeasure with this portrait, which must be some recommendation.
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