Friday, July 10, 2009

Divine Il Divo

A car falls silently into a gravel pit.
The only sound, the chirping of birds.

Cut to: The face of Giulio Andreotti, impassive, frozen, his eyes hidden behind his massive glasses, like two flatscreens tuned to a dead channel.

This is the glory of Il Divo, opening in Toronto today, rolling out across North America.

Il Divo is one of the best films I've seen this year, if not the best. An energetic mix of politics and crime, it has the nerve of a Guy Ritchie film, but the maturity of a mafia classic, such as, yes, The Godfather.

It's a fitting comparison because Il Divo is equally epic in scope. Spanning decades, it follows the life of Giulio Andreotti, who served as Italy's Prime Minister for seven terms. For about as long Andreotti has been dogged by claims of mafia connections, charges of corruption, political assassinations and worse.

The filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino digs into this, not in a linear fashion, but jumping about, bouncing from the streets where killers roam, to corridors of power. Much time is spent in Italy's parliament, where Andreotti's circle of friends, (who carry nicknames like The Shark and The Lemon) ensure the country runs they way they want it to.

It's a fascinating portrait of power, much of it a mystery because the lead actor Toni Servillo gives away so little. Andreotti is an enigma. A face like Henry Kissinger, all jowls and forehead, but behind the accountant's facade, is a monster. The man they call the Black Pope. At a party during one scene, one of the pretty young things asks Andreotti, "Have you ever danced Prime Minister?" "My Whole Life." is the answer.

This is a movie, where the filmmaker is bending the entire medium to his will. The music, motion, acting, even the title credits, all combine to create something thrilling. There are no easy answers. This is not a rant, it's a mystery. Only once does Sorrentino play his hand, allowing Il Divo a peel-the-paint-off-the-walls monologue with a bloody body count.

Winner of the 2008 Jury Prize at Cannes. Watch the trailer here if you need more convincing. Enjoy.

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