Il Divo: Sorrentino’s Political Tale of Italy’s Andreotti

Il Divo, directed by Paolo Sorrentino, world premiered (in competition) at the 2008 Cannes Film Fest, where it won the Jury Prize.

Our Grade: B+ (**** out of *****)

Il divo (meaning the Divine, or more broadly a celeb) is an intriguingly complex biopic based on the figure of former Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti.  The film explores Italy’s seven-time prime minister, notorious for his alleged ties to the Mafia.

The narration covers Andreotti’s seventh election in 1992, his failed bid for the presidency, the Tangentopoli bribe scandal and his trial in 1995.

As the film opens, Giulio Andreotti gives an inner monologue observing how he has managed to survive his tumultuous political career while his detractors have died.

A montage shows the murders of various indidviduals connected to Andreotti, including journalist Mino Pecorelli, Carabinieri general Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa, bankers Michele Sindona and Roberto Calvi, and former prime minister Aldo Moro.

Detailed Plot

In Rome, at dawn, when everyone is sleeping, one man is awake. That man is Giulio Andreotti. He’s awake because he has to work, write books, move in fashionable circles and, last but not least, pray. Calm, crafty and inscrutable, Andreotti is synonym of power in Italy for over four decades. At the beginning of the Nineties, this impassive yet insinuating, ambiguous yet reassuring figure appears set to assume his seventh mandate as Prime Minister without arrogance and without humility.

Approaching 70, Andreotti is a gerontocrat that, with all the attributes of God, is afraid of no one and does not know the meaning of awe, since he is accustomed to seeing it stamped on the faces of all his interlocutors. His satisfaction is muted, impalpable. For him, satisfaction is power, with which he has a symbiotic relationship. Power the way he likes it. Unwavering and immutable, from the outset. He emerges unscathed from everything: electoral battles, terrorist massacres, slanderous accusations. He is untouched by it all, unchanging. Until the strongest counter power in Italy, the Mafia, declares war on him. Then things change. Perhaps even for the enigmatic, immortal Andreotti. But the question is: do they really change or only appear to We can be sure of one thing: it is difficult to tarnish Andreotti, the man who knows the ways of the world better than any of us.

Says director Sorrentino: “Andreotti is the most important politician Italy has had in the last half-century. His fascination lies in his ambiguity, and he is so psychologically complex that everyone has been intrigued by him over the years. I’ve always wanted to make a film about Andreotti, but when I started reading up on him I found myself wading through literature that was so vast and contradictory, it made my head spin.

I thought that all this “material” could never be funneled into the essential structure that a film, with its rules, requires. Moreover, the image of Andreotti as the quintessence of ambiguity has not only been projected by scholars, reporters and Italians in general, but is also one that he himself has cultivated by invariably playing on and exploiting that ambiguity. First, by saying that his favorite movie is “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Then, as he wrote his urbane, ironical and reassuring best sellers, by dropping hints about his personal archive filled with names and secret doings that only he appeared to know about. This constant duality between the mask of a normal, predictable man and a mysterious and dark private persona, has given rise to countless stories about Andreotti.

Such a huge amount of literature required the rare gift of synthesis. So I am going to quote two women who possess this gift to a far greater degree than others or myself. One of them is Margaret Thatcher, who does not mince her words when describing Andreotti: ‘He seemed to have a positive aversion to principle, even a conviction that a man of principle was doomed to be a figure of fun.’

The other is Oriana Fallaci: “He scares me, but why this man received me most courteously, warmly. His wit made me roar with laughter. He certainly didn’t look threatening. With those rounded shoulders as narrow as a child. With those delicate hands and long, white fingers, like candles. His always being on the defensive. Who is afraid of a sickly person, who is afraid of a tortoise Only later, much later, did I realize that it was precisely these things th made me scared.’

True power does not need arrogance, a long beard and a barking voice. True power strangles you with silk ribbons, charm and intelligence. Of the thousands of statements I read, it was these two comments about the most influential man in Italy that revealed powerful core concepts on which a film could pivot.

Oscar Context:

The film was nominated for the for the 2009 Best Makeup Oscar.