Dominic Ambrose Blogblot

of words: narrative, film and non-fiction

Il Divo. Giulio Andreotti’s battle for power becomes a cinematic spectacle

November, 2008:

Paolo Sorrentino’s film is a complex story of the ruthless scramble for power in late Twentieth Century Rome. Aldo Moro is kidnapped and murdered, Police chiefs, journalists and judges are assassinated. Suicides shoot and hang, and Giulio Andreotti reaches for the ultimate prize, the Presidency of the Republic.

Toni Servillo at the European Film Awards. (Runeevensenscanpix)

Toni Servillo at the European Film Awards. (Runeevensenscanpix)

In this film, “Il Divo” director Paolo Sorrentino gives a taste of the phantasmagorical world of Giulio Andreotti’s career. Mondo Andreotti is a place of imperial intrigue, a web of interlinked manipulations from Church, Mafia and corrupt officials. As texts on the screen inform us, half submerged criminal activities, like the P2 of the 1970s, the international Masonic lodge promoting rightwing dictatorship, and the Tangentopoli corruption scandals of the 1990s are the leitmotif of Andreotti’s career. Conspiracies seem so common that no one is able to fathom the layers of secret interest behind any political move, so people give up trying. It is this war of attrition that Andreotti plays in order to reach the heights of power. He is reviled, betrayed and indicted repeatedly, but he always manages to outlive his enemies and his competition. One of the competitors that he easily survives is the former Prime Minister, Aldo Moro, a character that becomes a true nemesis as he haunts Andreotti’s thoughts.

Sorrentino easily blends many cinematic styles to create this energetic film. There are action sequences and documentary style use of text and voiceover. There are nods to Coppola and Fellini in some of the scenes of extravagances, This is evident in the frenzy of an inauguration party, which the camera enters from afar. There are young dancers gyrating to the sounds of a percussion band in an opulent palatial space. However, the celebration is grotesque, it seems more aggressive than entertaining, an unpleasant, enforced festivity that seems to build power more than release tension. In the midst of this sumptuous room that could be straight out of Ancient or Renaissance Rome, Andreotti sits like a king, barely acknowledging the queue of sychophants waiting their turn to perform the rituals of obeisance. As if to underscore this, elsewhere in the film, Senator Rino Formica is quoted as saying that Andreotti carries inside him 2000 years of history, from the trial of Jesus to legend of Pope Joan and the politics of the Borgias and beyond.

Giulio Andreotti is played by the great actor Toni Servillo, who manages to imbue this eerie creature with a seething energy. Standing stiff, with his shoulders hunched in Andreotti’s signature slouch, Servillo is like a lizard blending into the landscape, only betrayed by the unseemly flick of his tongue or the wring of his hands.

The screenplay does not have a story that develops in a coherent way, it is instead a story of the interaction of layers of power, like a cutaway slice of the earth’s crust showing all the layers of sediment, dead rock, earthworms, fossils and dirt. The story moves up and down these layers, as Andreotti conspires unsuccessfully to turn his several stints as Prime Minister into the ultimate achievement, Presidency of the Republic. Through it all, we see scenes of Aldo Moro, the leader of the Christian Democratic Party, in his solitary captivity in a Red Brigades prison, writing his letters of condemnation of this Christian Democratic circus. Moro was kidnapped by the Red Brigades in 1978 and imprisoned for 55 days. The Red Brigades terrorists played with Moro like a toy, dangling photos and letters from him before the Italian press, before finally extinguishing his life and dumping his body in the trunk of a car. The captive Moro is portrayed as an almost metaphysical force, the conscience of the Christian Democratic Party and the letters that he writes accusing Andreotti of malfeasance from his cell haunt Andreotti throughout the following decades of his power. It is these accusations, as well as Andreotti’s own quilty recognition of his own unworthiness that cause a second level of migraine headaches that intensify those he already suffers from throughout his entire life.

Moro gets the last word, saying that Andreotti, being free of the wisdom and flexibility and human fervor that marks a great political figure, may in fact remain there on the scene for a great period of time, but when he leaves, he will leave without a trace. These are the words that haunt Andreotti at the end, and they seem to have already come true. It will likely surprise audiences to learn that to this day Andreotti is still alive and in fact, still a Senator for life in Italy, so irrelevant has his reign become. His was ambition rather than vision, power rather than governance, and he has sunk into the obscurity of current events gone stale, rather than into history. He is like a black hole that has burned down into the heart of Italian political life, and as that hole heals, he will disappear inside.

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May 9, 2009 - Posted by | cinema | , , , , , , ,

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