Just as Matteo Garrone‘s lauded Gomorrah provided an aerial snapshot of Italian power, crime and political corruption, so too does Paolo Sorrentino’s Il Divo , the winner of the Jury Prize at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival. The difference is a matter of focus. Whereas Garrone’s sprawling mob drama ensemble took a somewhat impressionistic approach, Il Divo stars Toni Servillo (also a bit player in Gomorrah, incidentally) as seven-time Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti, a man whose almost otherworldly ability to hold onto power despite all sorts of nasty rumors and criminal charges (including a murder rap) made him one of the most fascinating political figures, Italian or otherwise, of the last half century.
Il Divo has already rung up around $11 million abroad, including an impressive $8.5 million in its native Italy, and if its Stateside commercial prospects, where it opens in limited release this week via Music Box Films, seem relatively low-burning, the movie is at least interesting for the manner in which it seemingly indicates a burgeoning desire on the part of foreign filmmakers to further explore the defining, controversial sociopolitical players of their day and age.
“Andreotti is very
mysterious man, which is why I wanted to make the film,” says Sorrentino, who was not yet 10 years old when the politician was elected to the first of his seven terms as Prime Minister. “He’s always
been very popular, because in addition to being a politician, he’s also
been a very popular writer, and he’s been on television a lot. Also, I’m very drawn to characters that are alone or affected by solitude, and even though Andreotti is constantly surrounded by other people, there’s a very deep sense of solitude in his character, which leads to this interesting sense of melancholy.”
Melancholic, yes, but also devisive, and somewhat unknowable. In fact, the story goes, ask any 10 people about Andreotti, and you’re llikely to have a neatly split opinion on the man, complete with all sorts of fractured, at-odds anecdotes. To capture that sense of swirling mystery — some paint Andreotti as the ultimate quiet, back-room broker, a sort of forerunner to Dick Cheney, others view him as a corruptible pawn in larger power games — Sorrentino (above, setting a low-angle shot) settled upon a lively style seemingly out of step with the staid subject matter of political ascension and shell games.
“Of course we [knew it was] going to be a devisive
film, because Andreotti is a figure that is either loved or hated,” says Sorrentino with the aide of a translator. “Andreotti is a man that’s full of irony; this is something that
comes forward often in many of his jokes. But it had to be expressed in
a way that went beyond just the spoken word, and that’s what led to the
decisions with certain song selections, and the way the film was
framed. I choose the music as I write the script, because I need the
music in order to be able to write the script.”
Then there was the director’s choice for Andreotti — longtime friend and collaborator Servino, a multi-hyphenate threat in his own right who perfectly captures Andreotti’s hounddog dourness and slouch, the one part of the public record with respect to Andreotti that brings no argument or dissension. “I
told Servino to become a machine, or a robot, which was a very quick
way of giving him direction for the part,” recalls Sorrentino. “He’s one of the most
extraordinary actors of his generation, so it
was absolutely unthinkable that he wouldn’t play the part.”
Given the rebuke of overt religious political grandstanding that American voters delivered unto the Republican party in the last two election cycles, an interesting undercurrent of Il Divo is found in the masonic secrecy of Andreotti’s supporters in the Italian Christian Democrat party, and the manner in which they pull levers of power. How does this intersect with Andreotti’s own faith? Is his worldview shaped by it, or is it a cynical alliance of convenience? Even Sorrentino, after all sorts of meticulous research, isn’t sure. “The question of the sincerity of his faith is something that no one will ever know, it’s a completely private issue,” he says. “However, the way he carries and conducts himself is in fact very much tied to the culture of the church, which is a much different thing than the issue of faith. This is a very complicated issue, and one that’s changed a lot recently. Now, the great majority of the population doesn’t really feel that there’s an honest and sincere role of the church in the execution of politics.”
For more on Il Divo, click here.