Thursday, November 06, 2014

Viva la Liberta: Politicians and Madmen

Enrico Oliveri is as tired as his platform. The current leader of Italy’s leftwing opposition was considered the safe choice, pretty much guaranteeing their continued electoral futility. It hardly matters when Oliveri precipitously disappears. In fact, the party just might find itself in better hands when he is secretly replaced with his legitimately certifiable twin in Roberto Andò’s Viva la Libertà (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

The reserved and increasingly depressed Oliveri has become a convenient punching for frustrated party members. His business-like relationship with his wife Anna does not provide much joy either, so finally walks away from everything, turning up unannounced on his former lover Danielle’s doorstep in France.

With elections fast-approaching, Oliveri’s chief of staff Andrea Bottini stalls for time as best he can. As a temporary stop-gap, he recruits Oliveri’s lunatic identical twin to impersonate him until Oliveri returns. However, the recently de-institutionalized brother, who writes under the pseudonym Giovanni Ernani, demonstrates a far greater flair for politicking. Suddenly, Bottini is not so sure he wants his old boss back.

Ironically, it is unclear whether Andò realizes Ernani’s red meat demagoguery is just as substance-less as Oliveri’s mealy-mouthed prevarications. Aside from some class conscious blaming “the man,” there is really nothing to Ernani’s supposedly inspiring rhetoric, especially his third act recitation of Bertolt Brecht’s “To the Wavering,” which is a great way to say precisely nothing. It would all be rather clever if it were deliberate, but one gets the impression Andò accidentally satirized himself.

Regardless, Toni Servillo clearly has fun mugging and goofing as Ernani, but he is far more compelling as the world weary Oliveri, coming to grips with his personal and political failings. However, it is Valerio Mastandrea who supplies the film’s real heart and soul as Bottini, a tragic true believer not yet completely disillusioned. Unfortunately, most of the women are rather bland supporting characters, even the Machiavellians (although Giulia Andò’s snake tattoo certainly makes an impression, especially for a junior aide). Eric Trung Nguyen is similarly underutilized as Danielle’s filmmaker husband, but at least he adds some diversity.

Given Servillo’s remarkably accomplished work in films like Il Divo, Dormant Beauty and the Oscar winning Great Beauty, expectations will be high for Viva, but it is a surprisingly lukewarm affair. Nonetheless, its lack of ideological brass knuckles makes it relatively accessible to a wide spectrum of viewers, much like Ivan Reitman’s Dave, except even less pointed. Harmless and sometimes pleasant in a non-taxing way, Viva la Libertà is mostly just recommended for fans of Italian cinema (and Servillo in particular) pining for a fix, when it opens this Friday (11/7) in New York at the Quad Cinema.