Sat 15 Jun 2013
Biographical films tend to be respectful to the historical figures that they describe. Even when they describe complex and controversial characters they try to explain and to put in context the motivation of deeds which in the perspective of history seem evil. Paolo Sorrentino‘s ‘Il Divo’ is quite the contrary, it is a negative biography about a character who dominated the Italian politics for most of the second part of the 20th century, the leader of the Christian-Democratic Party and seven-times Prime Minister of Italy, Giulio Andreotti. The film does not lack complexity – quite the contrary – and the historical context of the 80s and 90s is described in detail, but the effect is willingly opposite than in usual biographies. Even political actions which would have seen candid or neutral seem to catch a strong significance and are seen through the perspective of the corruption and Mafia-relations which seem to have dominated Italian political life of the period.
My knowledge about the Italian politics is too superficial to make a definite judgment about the correctness of the facts presented on screen. What I can say after seeing the film is that it does not seem to pretend to be objective. Even if there is no explicit statement, there is neither any positive angle we brought into the film or positive dimension that is not questioned. Even the relationship with his wife (‘I knew all these years what kind of man I married’) or helping the poor (which looks more like a political exercise deprived of sincerity). There are however many other scenes (like the repeated walk on empty streets surrounded by cohorts of security people, the reception after his last nomination as Prime Minister) which describe not only the outer-worldness of the man, but also of the whole system.
Even more amazing is the fact that Andreotti was alive when this film was made (he actually died about a month ago) and has seen at least part of the film, allegedly walking out after a while. So this is not only a biography, but a pamphlet directed against a living politician. Andreotti, by the way, was no stranger to the Italian cinema industry, he played an important role in establishing the rules that protected the local industry against foreign (especially Hollywood) imports in the 50s, but also the establishment of a de-facto censorship over the content of the productions which was in place for many decades. Is this film also kind of a revenge of the now free industry over this character? Maybe.
To a very large extent ‘Il DIvo’ relies on the extraordinary acting performance of Toni Servillo. He makes one of these creations which in time tend to superpose and replace the visual representation we have about the real-life person. Great acting indeed, but do we end by understanding better Giulio Andreotti the man? I doubt it. Paolo Sorrentino certainly knows how to construct complex characters which do not show easily their intense internal beings. Looking now retrospectively he did the same thing in This Must Be the Place (which he made later, but I saw it before). He does not however serve the viewers with ready prepared answers about the motivation of his heroes. I knew very little about Andreotti before seeing this film, I know many more facts now, but the man remains a mystery.