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Il Divo

The Bottom Line

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Cannes, In Competition

CANNES -- At long last in this year's Cannes Competition, a film on a serious subject that nevertheless consistently entertains and often makes you laugh out loud. Subtitled "The Spectacular Life of Giulio Andreotti," the frequently outrageous "Il Divo" follows the career of one of the best-known and most tenacious figures in Italian political history in a lively, sensory-overload, cartoonlike fashion reminiscent of "Amelie" and "Moulin Rouge." The fact that it's often over-the-top goes with saying, and is part of the fun.

The big question is how well the film will play to audiences outside of Italy, since even in its home territory many viewers will be baffled by the overwhelming cast of characters and the sheer complexity of Andreotti's many entanglements. It's a shame that this wildly exuberant, brilliantly crafted film will probably never get the worldwide exposure, in any format, that it clearly deserves.

Andreotti, part of the Christian Democrat government since immediately after World War II and -- despite being beset by multiple scandals and criminal trials -- still going strong, was Italy's prime minister a record seven times. Director Sorrentino wisely concentrates on his seventh and final government (1991-92), as well as his more recent barrage of legal problems, in an undoubtedly vain attempt to keep his material under control.

The Divo is relentlessly caricatured and made fun of from the film's opening titles, presumably on the theory that invincible power can only be challenged by laughter. (It's also clear that Andreotti's larger-than-life personality is intended to make audiences think of the equally egregious Silvio Berlusconi, the recently elected third-time prime minister and a despised figure in Italian cultural and artistic circles.)

However, one of the best things about the film is that on the questions that really matter -- was Andreotti involved with the Mafia and with the murder of journalist Mino Pecorelli? -- it always allows Andreotti equal time to make his case and takes pains to point out that he has been acquitted every time he's been on trial.

The closest Sorrentino comes to revealing the heart of the man is in his exploration of the death of party colleague Aldo Moro at the hands of the Red Brigades in 1978, 50 days after he was kidnapped, a miscalculation by Andreotti and his Christian Democrat colleagues that has haunted them ever since.

Toni Servillo does a magnificent job of interpreting, or rather channeling, Andreotti -- down to his trademark stiff slouch, dour, unrevealing face and devastating one-liners. Andreotti's many sidekicks and hangers-on are played with equal serio-comic intensity by a talented cast that will be largely unknown to audiences outside Italy.

The music is another memorable part of the film, ranging from Faure's haunting "Pavane" to Vivaldi, Saint-Saens and Sibelius, and features original, often stunning music by Teho Teardo.

Production companies: Indigo Film, Lucky Red, Parco Film
Cast: Toni Servillo, Anna Bonaiuto, Giulio Bosetti, Flavio Bucci, Carlo Buccirosso, Giorgio Colangeli, Alberto Cracco, Piera Degli Esposti; Director: Paolo Sorrentino; Screenwriter: Paolo Sorrentino; Producers: Nicola Giuliano, Francesca Cima, Andrea Occhipinti, Maurizio Coppolecchia
Director of photography: Luca Bigazzi; Production designer: Lino Fiorito; Costume designer: Daniela Ciancio; Editor: Cristiano Travaglioli.
Sales: Beta Film
No MPAA rating, 117 minutes.