Tuesday, 4 August 2009
In Paolo Sorrentino’s Il Divo, a profile of long serving Italian Prime minister Giulio Andreotti who enjoyed close ties with both the Vatican and Italy’s criminal underworld, the director relishes combining gangster flick elements with a strong literary history that portrays Italy's institutions (political and religious) in a less than favourable light, working with the premise of Italy as a hotbed of vice. Government, church and private ambition are tangled up in what is a chillingly smooth and stylised, modern day Machiavellian crime thriller.
When the decision has clearly been made to entertain us with something of a caricature of Andreotti and his men, however, it is confusing that in the opening slides we are made to read several paragraphs of Italian history, a who’s who of political factions. The glossary excerpts prepare us for an academic critique rather than the historical drama that eventually follows. As such, the details are largely irrelevant and confusing.
But when the drama does come, it is deliciously creepy. Beautifully haunting set-pieces stay with you long after the film has finished: the image of the unflinching and docile Andreotti undergoing acupuncture to ease his migraines (his head a crown of pins) is one example, as is the running shot of Andreotti emotionlessly pacing through Rome’s empty night time streets surrounded by armed police escort, back stiff, nerves unwavering. Toni Servillo, who plays the Italian Prime Minister, does fantastically to convey such a sinister persona without so much as moving an eyebrow. His character, for all the film’s caricaturing, is filled with all the ambiguities of a powerful man losing his grip.
On top of some brilliant acting, the film as a whole looks good too. Attention to the details of the period (notably the suits, the decadence and the social order) does not falter, while the cinematography exhausts every opportunity for some dazzling camerawork, depicting events which are cool and calm one moment and then furiously unravelling the next through a range of different shots. Equally, the soundtrack manages to flit disorientatingly from melodic classical symphonies to ruthless industrial guitars in an incongruous mix that wouldn’t appear out of place in a Tarantino film. One of my only negative comments would be that, being such a self-consciously sleek film, Il Divo seems slightly too contrived at times. This said, the smile that creeps cross your face at the brutal ridiculousness of it all tells you that this too is one of the joys of watching the film.
It's just a shame that such a fantastic film shares it's name with those four cocks that Simon Cowel desses up in suits...