The Italian film Il Divo is one of those films where not knowing the history behind the story makes it difficult to understand what is going on. The need for background knowledge makes an already cryptic movie even more cryptic and though not impossible to understand it leaves one, despite the informative title cards interspersed through out the story, puzzled at best.
Il Divo is the story of Giulio Andreotti who was the Italian Prime Minister several times between the 70’s and the early 90’s and whose links to corruption and organized crime lead to his mafia trial in 1992, where he was found not guilty. The film covers all of those things, but in atemporal snipits so that it is hard to know what happened when and why. Il Divo is not a movie that tries to explain what he did, but suggest what he did. It is a movie that looks on the events from the outside, as might a reporter. Events, then, if unknown, stay unknown. For the outsider to Italian history the collection of characters who meet, but don’t seem to incriminate themselves leaves one uncertain as to the point of showing the characters. While the technique of showing what is only known make reportorial sense, that when it comes with so few explanations, the film looses some of its impact. Which is not to say the film is bad, just that without the backgrounding one is bound to be confused.
Toni Servillo who plays Andreotti is one of the bright spots of the movie, even for one who knows nothing about Italy. He walks like a nerdy Nosferatu, shoulders hunched, taking small gliding steps, backing out of rooms and turning on his heals to change direction. Apparently this is an accurate portrayal of Andreotti and it is fascinating to watch him inhabit the character. The way he speaks, too, is strange: not a dominator, but strategizer.
What one comes away with after watching the film is a complete amazement that Italy functions at all. There is scene after scene of corrupt meetings, politicians giving away things to voters, and, of course, assignations. You don’t have to know Andreotti to know something is wrong with all of that.
Il Divo is a mixed movie, one that doesn’t require a specialist’s knowledge to enjoy, but it sure will help.