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Il Divo (2009)

  • Review: *** ½ (out of ****)
  • Starring: Toni Servillo, Anna Bonaiuto, Giulio Bosetti, Flavio Bucci, Carlo Buccirosso, Giorgio Colangeli, Alberto Cracco, Piera Degli Esposti, Lorenzo Giorielli, Paolo Graziosi, Gianfelice Imparato, Massimo Popolizio, Aldo Ralli, Giovanni Vettorazzo
  • Director: Paolo Sorrentino
  • Screenplay: Paolo Sorrentino
  • Length: 110 min.
  • MPAA Rating: Unknown

It’s a historical period with which most people aren’t familiar, but Il Divo is a fascinating, if somewhat verbose examination of one of the most controversial figures in recent Italian politics.

Giulio Andreotti (Toni Servillo) was the former Prime Minister of Italy whose questionable Mafia connections are the subject of much debate in Italy. The title Il Divo (the divine) is one of the many nicknames the Senator for Life has received over the years and may be a rather perfect name.

The film covers the period from 1978 through his many trials for Mafia collusion. During this time, he was elected and not-elected Prime Minister several times, but the film is ostensibly about the events that led to the 1996 trial, his acquittal, subsequent conviction on appeal and then re-acquittal. The trial surrounded his alleged involvement in the murder of Mino Pecorelli, a journalist who accused him of Mafia ties and to the kidnapping of Prime Minister Aldo Moro.

From all I’ve read and heard about Andreotti, Servillo gives an intricate portrayal. Assisted by magnificent makeup work, he embodies the bent-eared, hunchback former Prime Minister. In his unflinching soliloquy near the end of the picture, Servillo conveys Andreotti’s strength as a communicator and manipulator while highlighting his impassioned support of the Catholic Church and his faith in God. It’s a performance that, had it been more vociferously pushed by its producers might have netted him an Oscar nomination.

The makeup for Andreotti is not the only impressive piece in the film. The entirety is a rich, detailed recreation of the various personages surrounding the Prime Minister from his biggest allies in the senate to his secretary and wife. If the similarities alone had not been greatly enhanced by the makeup, the passage of twenty years is subtly and effectively created.

There is strength in all of the film’s performances, most notably Anna Bonaiuto as his wife Livia Danese and Piera Degli Esposti as his secretary. It’s a rarity in English-language cinema to find such a strong supporting cast that doesn’t attempt to one-up the lead character of the film, but Il Divo handily succeeds that that endeavor.

If there’s one flaw, and it’s one that’s more keen to those who have trouble with subtitles or aren’t able to read them too fast, the film’s plethora of dialogue makes for a difficult watch. Not only are you trying to keep track of what’s happening on the screen, you also need to make sure you read every, precisely crafted word. It’s a bit tiring after all, which isn’t necessarily a flaw of the film, but of the subtitlers trying to combat the hyper fast recitation.

For a historical document, it’s an interesting film, but like most of them, it suffers tremendously for being overly explanatory. Sometimes a scene will adequately replace spoken dialogue, but Il Divo throws it all on the screen resulting in an occasional bit of sensory overload that makes the film feel longer than it needs to.

Those who are fascinated by political features and don’t mind the backstabbing, subterfuge and lies coming at you in a foreign language about a foreign figure, Il Divo will ably suit your pleasures. If you aren’t, there’s still plenty to find informative, but whether it will be aggressive enough for everyone is up to individual interpretation.