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Il divo (2008)

Music Box Films

Italian politics, prone to looking like a nest of vipers to an outside observer, receives the full weight of Paolo Sorrentino's cinematic imagination in "Il divo." Presenting the inner workings of the country's Christian Democrats through an operatic whirlpool of cross-cutting, flamboyant set-pieces, audacious musical choices and the odd surreal interjection, Mr. Sorrentino has crafted a film feverish enough to do the subject justice.

The focus of his energetic gaze is Giulio Andreotti, seven times Italy's prime minister who stood trail for corruption a mind-blowing 26 times along the way, accused of countless indiscretions, criminal ties and acquiescence in the 1978 murder of Aldo Moro. Earning its subtitle of "The Spectacular Life of Giulio Andreotti," the film sees Mr. Sorrentino uncork a torrent of visual energy. The camera swoops and swivels, the on-screen captions shiver in anticipation of approaching violence, and at one point a skateboard clatters through the corridors of power, riderless and incongruous, an element of outside chaos in the parliamentary chambers.

All this energy is there to counterpoint Andreotti himself, majestically played by a transformed Toni Servillo as a gnomic, almost autistic, contradiction. A bizarre figure even in repose, with thick glasses, visible hunchback and ears on loan from Max Shreck, Andreotti turns into a flamboyantly outrageous creation when stirred. Seen pacing around his mansion house at a rate of knots in the middle of the night, or addressing his colleagues in mumbled impenetrable aphorisms while swiveling on his heels like he's mounted on wheels, he cuts such a confounding figure that his foes seem too bemused by his quirks to get a bead on him. There's a tip of the hat to "The Untouchables" early on, when Andreotti receives a shave while addressing his cabal, but mostly he's the least Capone-like gangster imaginable, a man with absence rather than presence.

"Il divo" builds to one key moment, and it's a cheat: Indulging in a spot of directorial wish-fulfillment, Mr. Sorrentino has Andreotti confess. Or rather, ambiguous to the last, the politician pours forth an immense monologue to an empty room about the inconvenience of power and the need to do bad in order to do good. It's a volcanic blast of a performance from Mr. Servillo, emerging briefly from behind the curtain to grab the viewer by the lapels, and Mr. Sorrentino shines a holy spotlight of reason on the man to make the point.

The end result hardly counts as any kind of explanation of Mr. Andreotti or his actions, and any condemnation of the man is thoroughly blunted by Mr. Servillo's inherent charisma. But the struggle between Mr. Sorrentino 's high-voltage tactics and Mr. Andreotti's impenetrable hide lifts the film into something not seen often enough, authentic political theater.


Opens on April 24 in New York and on March 20 in Britain.

Written and directed by Paolo Sorrentino; director of photography, Luca Bigazzi; edited by Cristiano Travaglioli; music by Teho Teardo; production designer, Lino Fiorito; produced by Nicola Giuliano, Francesca Cima, Andrea Occhipinti and Maurizio Coppolecchia; released by Music Box Films and MPI Media Group (United States) and Artificial Eye (Britain). In Italian, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 57 minutes. This film is not rated by M.P.A.A. and rated 15 by B.B.F.C.

WITH: Toni Servillo (Giulio Andreotti), Anna Bonaiuto (Livia Andreotti), Giulio Bosetti (Eugenio Scalfari), Flavio Bucci (Franco Evangelisti), Carlo Buccirosso (Paolo Cirino Pomicino) and Giorgio Colangeli (Salvo Lima).


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