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Review: Il divo

The 'life' of Giulio Andreotti
By JEFFREY GANTZ  |  June 8, 2009
3.0 3.0 Stars

VIDEO: The trailer for Il divo

Il divo | Written and Directed by Paolo Sorrentino | with Toni Servillo and Anna Bonaiuto | Music Box Films | Italian | 110 minutes
Luigi Pirandello's most famous work is a play about six characters in search of an author. Paolo Sorrentino's Il divo (which won the Jury Prize, the third most prestigious award, at Cannes 2008) is a film in search of an audience. What on the surface looks like a biography of one of Italy's most (in)famous politicians — the subtitle is "The Extraordinary Life of Giulio Andreotti" — takes the form of Italy's revolving-door governments, or its interminable judicial investigations with their refrain of "Non ricordo," "I don't remember." Il divo — in which Andreotti is a metaphor for Italy — is extraordinary, but it would stretch even Italian audiences literate in the politics of their country's past 50 years, never mind the average intelligent American moviegoer.

Anthony Lane in his laudatory New Yorker review wasn't stretched at all, but he isn't average. It's not that Sorrentino leaves you totally high and dry. The film starts off with a selection of Andreotti nicknames: "Sphinx," "Hunchback," "Black Pope," "Il divo." Gradually some details come into focus: member of Italy's Christian Democrats; seven-time prime minister over the period from 1972 to 1992 (that anyone could be PM seven times in 20 years says a lot); suffers from migraines and is trying acupuncture, though throughout the film he keeps pushing to get the medication Tedax on the pharmocological codex; has an exercise bike; gets up at 4:30 in the morning; is married to the pickle-faced but ultimately sympathetic Livia (Anna Bonaiuto). All around him, meanwhile, people have been getting murdered: two-time PM Aldo Moro, kidnapped and executed by the Red Brigades in 1978; journalist Mino Pecorelli, gunned down in 1979; Vatican banker Roberto Calvi, found hanging from Blackfriars Bridge in London in 1982; Michele Sindona, poisoned by cyanide in his coffee while in an Italian prison in 1986; magistrate Giovanni Falcone, blown up by the Mafia in 1992. Andreotti's life seems inextricable from their deaths. His involvement is suspected by all, proved by none.

Sorrentino mostly circles around the year 1992. Andreotti's seventh and final government has collapsed. His faction tries to get him elected president; that comes to nothing. The magistrates are closing in, but they seem to live in a different world. "Did you know" this or that Mafia figure, they ask. He looks pained. "How could I govern if I didn't?" he seems to be thinking. He's convicted of Pecorelli's murder, then cleared on appeal. Of course.

What we get in the end is a dizzying fugue, not just on Italian politics but on Italian filmmaking (from Antonioni and Fellini to Coppola and Scorsese), all to music that ranges from Sibelius's Second Symphony to '80s German band Trio's "Da Da Da." And what holds it together is Toni Servillo (Franco in Matteo Garrone's Gomorrah), who looks, talks, and — most important — walks uncannily like Andreotti. He's got the Prince Charles ears, the blinking-owl eyes behind tortoise-shell specs, the frozen half-smile, the hunched shoulders, the nervous hands, the stiff walk in the company of his bodyguards — everything about him screams epistemological circumspection. He tells others he's suffering for Moro. ("I vowed to give up ice cream if Moro were released. I love ice cream.") What does he tell himself?

Sorrentino doesn't know, and he doesn't try to guess. His film is all ellipses; he doesn't even mention the tangentopoli scandal that at the end of Andreotti's final government led to the demise of the Christian Democrats. Andreotti, as you might expect, didn't find the movie elliptical enough; he walked out in the middle of it. They don't call him "Il divo" for nothing.

Editor's Note: In a previous version of this article, the movie Gomorrah was incorrectly identified as Gomorra. The correction has been made above.

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  Topics: Reviews , Aldo Moro, Da Da Da, Jean Sibelius,  More more >
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