No worries, dear reader, this is not a review of that lame Italian boy band whose Christmas album your mom busts out every December 25th. Paolo Sorrentino’s Il Divo is many things – violent, exciting, complex, breath-taking, original – but lame (or boy band related, for that matter) this flick sure as shit ain’t. Shit, if smart, badass crime films like this and Matteo Garrone’s Gomorrah keep coming out of Italy, the country could quickly overtake Korea as the current crime movie producing champion. After all, it’s hard not to have faith in Italy, seeing how they used to be one of the most vital countries in all of cinemadom (the neo-realists, Fellini, spaghetti westerns, giallo, and Argento – and that’s just for starters).
But enough of the Nerd showing off his wasted college education: onto the fucking review already.
Il Divo is the true story of Giulio Andreotti, the former Prime Minister of Italy behind dozens of murders and conspiracies who was never successfully tried for any of his crimes. Though Andreotti was a life-long politician, the bulk of the action in the film takes place mainly during his tumultuous years as Prime Minister in the eighties and nineties when he was an old man and a number of harrowing court cases are brought against him.
Though a character study, Il Divo is thrillingly filmed and packed with assassination scenes. Sorrentino makes every scene pop with his indelible style. Crazily choreographed steadicam tracking shots, bizzare uses of three-dimensional on-screen text, inspired use of source music over slow-mo images, and kinetically filmed violence keep the pace humming along like a viscera-soaked death machine. This is some young-Scorsese type of shit, dear reader, no fucking joke.
But the style contrasts directly with the man himself. While shit is going down in the streets, Andreotti is conferring with his party in the majestic halls of his home or the parliament. Where the film is full of kinetic life and messy vigor, Andreotti is cold, calculating and tight-lipped. Andreotti is quick-witted and charming, but his fearsome reputation and alleged mafia ties frighten even those closest to him. Aside from one fantastical monologue sequence delivered directly to the camera, Andreotti lets no one into his mind or heart. Obviously, seeing how he was never convicted of any of his multitude of sins, such a strategy paid off for him but (excuse the tired phrasing) at what cost?
Toni Servillo plays a difficult character beautifully, the performance expressed primarily through a peculiar physicality. His face is perpetually set in a mode I call “particularly bored Peter Bogdanovich” and his posture stoop-shouldered, almost hunchback. Even his walk is bizarre and striking, his steps quick and purposeful but his torso and head seemingly immoveable. This a performance less about obvious emoting than it is about simple presence – and good God does Servillo have fucking presence.
But though I am – no hyperbole whatsoever – in awe of this film, it can be difficult at times to follow. It’s subtitled and the dialogue comes at you fast as shit, to the point that you might miss some intricacies of the plot. And though the use of text is often inspired, it’s in, you know, Italian so sometimes the screen can be busied up with all the words. The images are often so striking that you may rush your reading of the subtitles to look at all the cool shit in the frame. But though this may lead to you missing some of the intricacies, you’re never going to be truly confused, will always be able to follow the “basic” plot.
A second pass would probably clear up any confusion and that’d be easy as shit to do with this film. I’m not usually a re-watcher, but I plan on watching this again very soon. Shit, I may even turn off the fucking subtitles just to enjoy the sights and sounds. This is badass, exciting, and smart filmmaking, dear reader, and I want another heady fucking dose of it toot-sweet.