Film review: Il Divo (MFF 2009)

Il Divo
Indigo Film, Lucky Red, Parco Film

STARRING Toni Servillo, Anna Bonaiuto, Piera Degli Esposti, Paolo Graziosi, Giulio Bosetti, Flavio Bucci, Carlo Buccirosso, Cristina Serafini
WRITTEN BY Paolo Sorrentino
PRODUCED BY Francesca Cima, Fabio Conversi, Maurizio Coppolecchia, Nicola Giuliano
Andrea Occhipinti
DIRECTED BY Paolo Sorrentino

SHOT BY Luca Bigazzi
EDITED BY Christiano Travagliolo
MUSIC BY Teho Teardo

Screened at the Milwaukee Film Festival, 2009-09-25

Is it 1998? Is Guy Ritchie still a trendsetter? Paolo Sorrentino DIDN’T GET THE MEMO, so in the spirit of Il Divo, let a topless Q. of Spades lop off his head. Knowing nothing about modern Italian politics, this sexy, capricious biopic exists for me in a vacuum of narrative fiction – a warm, happy place, but one that Il Divo will only pass through on its way to a louder party. The seventh campaign as Italy’s Prime Minister, in the early 90’s, would prove to be a rather fateful one for the allegedly stolid, leaden, indifferent and merciless Giulio Andreotti – “Senator for Life”… heard that appellation before… – played in a perpetual hunch by Tony Servillo, whose performance reminds me of Geoffrey Rush, so, B, B+. Andreotti and his shrewd paisano retinue catch the windfall of heaven when several conspirators turn to the authorities and detail Andreotti’s extensive web of corruption and murder and his messy connections to Mafia, Masons, Vatican (not necessarily in ascending order) leading to yet another of those Trials of the Decade (is that meant to imply that O.J. Simpson is equally important as a tyrannical dictator?). Andreotti’s humanity is only demonstrable when he is looking back, haunted by the murder of the former Prime Minister and abject in the eyes of God – yet another tyrant’s keeper.

If the film were deep enough to suggest introspection we might even go so far as to call it “The Divine Judgment of Giulio Andreotti,” but Sorrentino found “The Celebrity” to be sexier. The film’s playfulness is appreciated but can’t escape from the moody, highly caught-up-in-itself tone. How many shots do we need of haughty, rich thugs strutting in slow motion? How many does cinema need? If the film feels overly expository – which it does, because it is – the tone is largely responsible. Semicolon: it’s hard to be productive when you’re Narcissus. I get the impression that Sorrentino must shallowly lust after this world of strategy and manipulation, tyranny and blind devotion, of Extremes which, Paolo may or may not notice, are unaware of the tab they are running up. None of these comments are meant to suggest Sorrentino is not intelligent – he is. And he cares. But he’s awfully capricious. More is more. I haven’t seen Sorrentino’s other work but I wouldn’t be surprised if Il Divo was a peak. Like his subject, Sorrentino seems to be a natural politican. The film biz may be exactly where he belongs – away from things which could feasibly hurt people, in places where life is little more than a big sexy game.

written by David Ashley