Beth Accomando's Radio Feature on "Il Divo"
KPBS Film Critic Beth Accomando reviews the new Italian film Il Divo
Related Story: Review: San Diego Italian Film Festival
KPBS FM Radio Film Review: Il Divo
By Beth Accomando
Air Date: June 25, 2009
For more than fifty years, Guilio Andreotti was one of Italy's most powerful, feared and intriguing political figures. He is now the subject of a new film called Il Divo. KPBS film critic Beth Accomando has this review.
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(Tag:) Il Divo opens tomorrow (Friday) at Landmark's Hillcrest Cinemas. You can find more of Beth's reviews online at K-P-B-S-dot-O-R-G.
To call Il Divo a bio pic is like saying Shakespeare wrote a few sonnets. It misses the bigger picture, which is that this is the best film so far this year and it announces the 39-year-old director Paolo Sorrentino as a talent to watch.
The film hooks you from the beginning. A series of title cards lays out the political and historical backdrop of the film, which is a tumultuous post-war Italy. Then we meet Giulio Andreotti, one of Italy's most famous elder statesmen and possibly one of its most corrupt. We catch up with him as he's about to start yet another term as Prime Minister.
CLIP Voiceover in Italian
Andreotti is a misshapen man not unlike the Machiavellian Richard III of Shakespeare. And like Richard he takes the viewer into his confidence revealing a sly wit and pride in his own machinations. Andreotti explains that he suffers from migraines and that doctors said he should have died decades ago. But he's still here, and Sorrentino's interested in his story. As the camera slowly moves in, Andreotti looks up from his desk to reveal a face covered in acupuncture needles so he looks eerily like Pinhead. Then bang…
[Hard cut to music]
Sorrentino interrupts the elegant calm of his opening with contemporary music and a quick cut montage of assassinations that explain in the clearest of terms why people fear Andreotti.
CLIP Camera flashes and applause
As Andreotti's new government is installed, he explains how he's been blamed for everything that's gone wrong in his country. People have also given him nicknames ranging from The Hunchback to The Black Pope and worse…
CLIP List of nicknames ending with Beelzebub
But Andreottii smiles and says he's never pressed charges because he has a sense of humor… and because the people he wants to shut up magically do.
Sorrentino moves back and forth in time, showing events out of order and teasing us with mysterious images that only make sense later. He pummels us with such a dizzying onslaught of information, people, and events that our heads spin. Yet we're riveted to the screen. Each shot feels like a miniature work of art – carefully framed, exquisitely lit, and with superb production design.
Toni Servillo plays Andreotti and he's mesmerizing. He rarely raises his voice and keeps his movements to a minimum. But that's because he runs things with such exacting control. But Servillo and Sorrentino also find humor in Andreotti, as in a scene where the Prime Minister has a showdown with a cat.
CLIP Cat meows
Andreotti, claps, and expects the cat to immediately clear out. When the creature fails to move you half expect Andreotti to put a hit out on the arrogant kitty. Servillo is quite adept at this physical comedy. He also maintains a deadpan expression to rival that of Buster Keaton.
The real Giulio Andreotti has gone on record saying he doesn’t like the movie but if Servillo's performance is any indication of what the man is like, Andreotti may be letting a smile curl up ever so slightly on his tight lips, and enjoying a cinematic epic devoted to him. The light may be unflattering but he emerges a fascinating and not entirely unsympathetic enigma.
Like the recent film Gomorra, Il Divo plays better to an audience familiar with recent Italian history and politics. But unlike Gomorra, Il Divo places an emphasis on showmanship in order to keep the audience engaged. Sorrentino knows he has a fantastical tale to tell and he delivers it with all the drama, spectacle, and flamboyance of a great Italian opera. The result is intoxicating.
For KPBS, I'm Beth Accomando