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Giulio Andreotti, who turned 90 earlier this year, has been a fixture in Italian life for well over half a century - three times as prime minister, twice as defense minister and once as foreign minister. "Il Divo" is a dramatic film that concentrates on the events leading to a series of trials in the early 1990s, in which Andreotti was accused of having Mafia ties.
Andreotti is an enigmatic figure, impassive and cold, but with a penchant for creating sardonic aphorisms, such as "Power wears out those who do not have it." Writer-director Paolo Sorrentino approaches his subject in a likewise spirit, recognizing this seminal politician's formidable position in 20th century Italian history, but presenting him almost as a figure of parody. It says something about the depth of Toni Servillo's performance that we very quickly see beyond the exaggerated mask - the stone face, the locked shoulders, the ears that fold down - to see the tormented, limited and potentially dangerous man underneath.
As a director, Sorrentino has an affection for shooting from the ground up and for using slow motion to introduce subordinate characters, as though they were rival gunslingers in a Sergio Leone Western. His presentation of a series of Mafia murders best conveys his directorial personality: It's graphic and detailed, but with the suggestion that we're seeing just part of a whole panorama of human folly. One comes away with a sense of Sorrentino's disgust and also his distance, his very Italian dose of fatalism.
For American viewers not thoroughly familiar with Andreotti (that's almost everybody), "Il Divo" is best appreciated as the bizarre character study of an essentially unlovable man who somehow became one of his country's most successful leaders. What did this nation, known throughout the world for its exuberance, see in this emotionless man? A highlight of the film - among several well-done, imagined set pieces - features Andreotti in an explosive confessional monologue, in which he explains why evil is necessary for good.
Other aspects will be lost on American viewers. I suspect, for example, that the cast of characters surrounding Andreotti are as well known to Italians as Haldeman, Erlichman, Mitchell or Dean. The vigorousness of the performers suggests that they're caricatures of people the audience already knows. Still, if Americans can't watch "Il Divo" with the same understanding as Italians, we can appreciate the film's perceptive dissection of a certain kind of public personality - one who craves the acceptance of people and the power to rule while somehow lacking the fundamental capacity to be a human being.— M. LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle
Fri October 2, 2009, 7:00 & 9:15, Muenzinger Auditorium
Italy, 2009, Italian, Color, 110 min, Not Rated, Widescreen, 2.35:1, 35mm