Il Divo – A Review (The movie, not the boy band)

There are frequently little surprises for me when I open the envelope containing the latest rental DVDs from Lovefilm.  The system is designed that way: I’ve set up a list of things I might quite like to see, and they, at random, pick something from the list to send each time I return the previous offering.  The surprises can be broadly of the ‘I don’t remember why I put THIS on the list’, or ‘Why won’t they send me the final disc in the box set I’ve been watching, how am I meant to remember what’s happening?’ varieties.

Il Divo fell into both categories; I genuinely don’t recall putting it on my list, and I’ve been waiting for Disc 3 of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip since before the end of November.  But with a friend staying and nothing on the television worth watching, on Friday evening we agreed to give this Italian language film a go.  If we didn’t enjoy it, we could always turn it off and talk to each other, and I could send it back on Monday.

Made in 2008, and directed by Paolo Sorrrentino it focusses on Giulio Andreotti, one of the great survivors of Italian politics from the 1950s through to the 1990s, who was prime minister several times in the 1970s, 80s and 90s.  He is portrayed in an astonishing performance by Toni Servillo as a blank faced, impassive, hunched, figure with neat hands and big glasses.  He walks through the elaborate halls of power with such tiny strides that he looks like he is gliding and takes late night strolls through narrow city strets surrounded by anxious looking security men.  He barely says a word, and when he does speak his mouth scarcely moves.  He is surrounded by a clique of men including politicians and bishops, in grey suits, who arrive in large shiny cars and regard he each other with manifest loathing.  The image is clear: he is the spider at the centre of a web of power.

The film is idiosyncratic; all the movements and tableau highly stylised, with each character introduced with titles written on the screen.  When not in mumbling conference with each other, these men of power are shown disporting themselves in wild dancing to drumming and jarring and anachronistic modern music, drinking a cocktail called Transgression.

And interspersing each episode is a murder, or purported suicide, of an eminent person from Italian public life.  Some of the names are familiar (to me, but only from the news reports at the time), Aldo Moro, the former Prime Minister murdered by the Red Brigade, when Andreotti refused to negotiate with terrorists, Roberto Calvi, hung from Blackfriars Bridge; and many more are not.  But the litany of shootings, explosions and strangulations paints a portrait of danger and corruption at the centre of power.

The question that has to be faced, then, is how, in this environment, did Andreotti survive?  Was he involved with the mafia; did he collude with murder and corruption?  In the only long speech in the film he explains that the security of the State requires that those in power do the unsavoury things that its citizens require; that it is necessary to do bad things for a good end.  It concludes with the long list of trials to which he was subjected when he left power and the charges from which he was, somewhat unconvincingly, acquitted.

I don’t know a great deal about Italian politics, other than they have a tendency to change governments very frequently, and that there is an unholy tension between politicians, the Vatican and organised crime, but I found this film curiously fascinating.  The first 20 minutes were utterly bewildering, and, probably, if I had been watching it alone, I would have given up, but my friend and I agreed to give it another 15 minutes to decide, and by then, although we weren’t entirely sure why, we were hooked and wanted to see it through to the end.

So if you’re looking for something quirky, challenging and Italian, give it a go!

‘I am a man of average height, but I see no giants here, so I will take the power.’

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