Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Prime Minister: Il Divo

He combined the political resilience of Richard Nixon with the creepy demeanor of Ed Grimley. It might not sound like an appealing combination, but it did not hamper Giulio Andreotti from winning three non-consecutive terms as Italy’s Prime Minister. As leader of the centrist Christian Democratic party, Andreotti was a fixture on the Italian political scene, earning him the nickname “The Caesar,” or Il Divo (trailer here), the apt title of Paolo Sorrentino highly stylized portrait of the controversial leader, which opens Friday in New York.

Frankly, Andreotti’s actual politics are difficult to pigeon-hole. The former Christian Democrats were a coalition of the right and left opposed to the Communists and supportive of the Catholic Church. He had a long alliance with Silvio Berlusconi’s future nemesis Romano Prodi, but they were members of different factions within the party. Sorrentino depicts the Andreotti faction as a colorfully corrupt bunch, including the thuggish Vittorio Sbardella (a.k.a. “The Shark”), Franco Evangelista (his “right arm” and the picture of a loyal mafia henchman), and Paolo Cirino Pomicino (“The Minister,” who acts like a sleazy Italian Larry David).

Il Divo shows Andreotti dogged by rumors of mafia ties and ultimately facing trial on corruption charges. In an absolutely dizzying sequence I cannot even begin to recap, Sorrentino dramatizes all the alleged links between Andreotti, mafia godfathers, shady bankers, corrupt politicians, and several assassinations. Whether Sorrentino truly connects all the dots is debatable, but it is a masterful piece of cinema.

Sorrentino keeps the film moving at a feverish piece, showing a bold visual sense and a dramatic use of music that could justly be described as operatic. Sorrentino is not dealing in subtleties here. However, the characters do engage the viewers’ interest, particularly Carlo Buccirosso as the weaselly Pomicino. Yet, Andreotti, the man himself, remains a cipher throughout. Toni Servillo portrays him as a stiff, awkward cold fish and a sinister shadowy figure emblematic of corruption, but occasionally he hints at something deeper inside.

Although Il Divo is deeply steeped in the intricacies of Italian politics, it is compulsively watchable. Sorrentino takes the audience on a hyper-kinetic ride through thirty odd years of Italian political scandal that often elicits laughter for the sheer outrageousness of its approach. It opens this Friday in New York at the Lincoln Plaza.