Chinks in His Armani: The Life of Italy's Malevolent Former Leader Is Rendered in Unforgiving Style

By Gilbey, Ryan | New Statesman (1996), March 23, 2009 | Go to article overview

Chinks in His Armani: The Life of Italy's Malevolent Former Leader Is Rendered in Unforgiving Style


Gilbey, Ryan, New Statesman (1996)


Il Divo (15)

dir: Paolo Sorrentino

A film that begins with a glossary outlining the intricacies of Italian political history has an extra hurdle to clear on its way to engaging an audience. But then the director Paolo Sorrentino doesn't make things easy for us, or himself, in Il Divo, subtitled The Spectacular Life of Giulio Andreotti.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The enigmatic and guarded Andreotti (Toni Servillo), seven times Italian prime minister, was implicated in the Tangentopoli ("Bribesville") investigations into political corruption in the early 1990s, the period on which the film focuses. Complicity with Cosa Nostra was alleged, and Andreotti was tried (and then convicted, before a subsequent acquittal) for the murder of the journalist Mino Pecorelli. So, this is an unsympathetic figure, as well as an unknowable one, and Sorrentino tries to turn those obstacles into the meat of the film. One underling informs Andreotti: "I'll never understand you. I don't know you." Another says: "You make it tough to care about you." Both charges could be levelled at Il Divo, a morass of political power games in which only Andreotti's malevolence is ever clear.

Occasionally it seems there are chinks in his Armani. He confesses to a priest that he can't stop thinking about Aldo Moro, the Christian Democratic party chairman who was kidnapped and murdered by the Red Brigades in 1978, during Andreotti's fourth government. "Why didn't they take me instead?" he implores. If it is remorse he's feeling, it soon warps into wounded pride. "Moro was weak," he complains. "I'm strong." The warm glow that other people get from approval or affection, Andreotti takes from threats to his life.

There are only two stars in Il Divo, Toni Servillo and Sorrentino's visual style, and it is a patient viewer who will not tire of at least one by the end. Sorrentino uses every trick in the book to keep the screen looking busy, which would be fine if it was his book. The cross-cutting between brutality and ceremony is pure Coppola; the marriage of violence and rock music can't improve on Scorsese; and the freakish close-ups should by rights have "[C] Fellini" in the corner of each frame. The surreal touches (a flying skateboard, a Persian cat with David Bowie eyes) are as arbitrary as the film references, which include ants crawling on a hand (Un chien andalou) and an Alka-Seltzer fizzing in water (Taxi Driver). Even those lowly supporting characters destined to be glimpsed only once get the honour of a slow-motion stroll like the astronauts in The Right Stuff. …

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