• Toni Servillo in 'Il Divo' (SBS Movies)Source: SBS Movies
Paolo Sorrentino reinvents the political biopic with 'Il Divo', which summons the strange, corrupted career of former Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti.
19 Apr 2017 - 3:34 PM  UPDATED 10 Feb 2020 - 12:03 PM

It’s a compelling take on political life

Paolo Sorrentino’s 2008 drama is based on the final act in the tumultuous career of Giulio Andreotti, an enduring figure in Italian politics who served repeatedly as the country’s Prime Minister before the many scandals that had dogged his career finally sidelined him – to an extent – in the 1990s. As played by Toni Servillo, Andreotti scurries between buildings and offers gnomic reassurance to colleagues and adversaries alike; he’s in the very midst of power, but never truly comfortable with it. The movie’s title pages promises to reveal “The Spectacular Life of Giulio Andreotti”, but the narrative reveals that to be a telling joke – the film’s subject is a functionary who has risen beyond easy explanation.

Paolo Sorrentino’s direction is masterful

Instead of campaign speeches and public debates, Sorrentino focuses on the insular diagnostics of political power; one perfect shot shows the suspension of a luxury government car falling and then rising as a politician gets out, and throughout the film there’s a curious relationship between people and their environments. The filmmaker’s camera pans across rooms and tracks in to elegantly arranged groupings, revealing the power dynamic with a technique that acknowledges the strange and the surreal. A celebration of the powerful is like some tacky variety show, while Andreotti’s home life is full of sly, workmanlike exchanges with his wife.


Toni Servillo gives a remarkable performance

Now in his late fifties, Toni Servillo is unquestionably one of Europe’s great screen actors, and his ongoing collaboration with Paolo Sorrentino has also produced 2004’s The Consequences of Love (also streaming at SBS On Demand) and 2013’s The Great Beauty. His Andreotti is almost bereft of emotion, an undertaker with thick glasses whose arms are clenched to his side when he walks as if he’s worried about a dagger between the ribs. It’s doubtful that this Andreotti could actually lead anyone, but Servillo shows how he could make people follow him. It’s not a performance of mere mimicry, but interpretation and amplification, and it’s nigh on impossible to take your eyes off the actor. 

Italy’s modern history is fascinating

Andreotti was Prime Minister of Italy on seven occasions, which is testament not to his endurance – although he did have a remarkably long public life, still being an elected representative when he died at the age of 94 in 2013 – but the chaos that underpinned Italy’s democracy after World War II. Governing coalitions, including Andreotti’s Christian Democrats, were formed and fell on a yearly basis even as Italy became a modern nation and was wracked by internal struggle. Andreotti was the Prime Minister in 1978 when his predecessor, Aldo Moro, was kidnapped by Red Brigade terrorists, who eventually killed him due to Andreotti’s refusal to negotiate. In the film he views those events with both regret and pride, especially since acts such as Moro’s kidnapping took the focus away from organised crime, which reached into every aspect if Italian life including Andreotti’s career. As a politician he was repeatedly pursued by prosecutors.

It’s the perfect introduction to The Young Pope

Sorrentino’s new production, the 10-part series The Young Pope, where Jude Law plays a wilful new cleric atop the Catholic Church, will make great sense to anyone who’s watched Il Divo, even if Law’s Pope Pius XIII struts and winks as he walks in profile where Servillo’s Andreotti is a cipher-like figure hurrying along lest he be spotted. The Young Pope, which streams in full on SBS on Demand from this Thursday, also captures the vagaries of power, and the way Sorrentino tracks towards cells of red-clad Cardinals recalls how his camera investigates the MPs grouped together in hushed conversations. “You must love God enough to know that good needs evil,” Andreotti confesses, and if he hadn’t been a politician, then the priesthood may well have suited him.

Watch 'The Young Pope' at SBS On Demand now.

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Watch 'Il Divo'

Tuesday 18 February, 9:30PM on SBS World Movies (streaming after broadcast at SBS On Demand)

Italy, 2008
Genre: Drama, Biography
Language: Italian
Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Starring: Toni Servillo, Anna Bonaiuto, Giulio Bosetti
What's it about?
A chronicle of the character and career of the seven-time Prime Minister, Giulio Andreotti (Servillo), renowned for leading one after another of Italy’s rapid succession of administrations and surviving a major bribery and corruption investigation, while opponents and former allies mysteriously dropped dead around him.


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