March 23, 2009

Il Divo

Giulio Andreotti was Prime Minister of Italy seven times. He was allegedly linked to all sorts of conspiracies and conspirators- from the CIA and the Pope to various mafiosi. During his period in Italian politics, several ministers were assacinated and one of his rivals for power, Aldo Moro, was kidnapped by the leftwing red brigades and eventually killed by them. This information is indispensible if you are going to watch and enjoy Il Divo, the new film about Andreotti that has just come out, however it is not important that you take a view on the issues. Rather than present an argument, the film presents an impression of Andreotti, it does not narrate or put together the series of murders and plots that may have put him at the centre of Italian politics, it assumes they did and then builds a picture impressionastically of the man and his milieu.

For the duration of the film you have to accept the film maker's view of Italy in the period, even if it is incorrect, for there is nothing to be gained from this film from arguing with it as it has no argument. Rather it is a series of illustrations- treat it as fiction or fact depending on your own view of Italian politics in the postwar era: but don't get hung up on inaccuracies or false assumptions, the film is bold, blatant and ahistorical. What is there to enjoy then in the film? Lets start with the filming which is truly innovative- you can see why a prize was given to the film at Cannes just from the unique style that the director has given his movie. This is a visual song and dance film not a deep film about political analysis. There are some very fine touches within it. As men die in an opening sequence- murdered by the mafia- their names follow the blood out of their mouths. In Roberto Calvi's case (he was an Italian banker whose corpse was found hanging off a bridge in the Thames) the camera revolves around his body and gradually he see his names emerging like his last breath into the foggy London air. There are some wonderful counterposes as well: at one point Andreotti confronts a cat- the cat sits looking at him across a marble floor and the absudity of human political power is brought out as this weak old man cannot move the cat from the floor, though he can move policemen and soldiers around at whim. There are other fine visual moments: lovely touches which show that the director has mastered the basics of the cinematic art.

It is the impression that I think is important in this film and not the detail. In a way the effect of the film is like that of Bulgakov's masterpiece- the Master and the Margerita- just like Bulgakov made the Russia of Stalin absurd through the device of the devil's return to earth, so Il Divo trades on the absurdity of Italy. Andreotti's historical cronies are given hyper real personalities their exaggerated expressions dance across the screen, puppets of the film makers imagination. Andreotti himself, dressed in black, stalks the stage- a hyperactive hunchback with an enigmatic smile. That sense that Andreotti was as his nicknames suggested the master of Italy is perpetuated by having him as a central point in all the scenes- the camera narrows in on this hunched frame: a Latin Richard III. Impressions are the key thing that the film trades on- attempting to analyse it as a narrative or a story will not give you what makes the film work or the point that the director is trying to get at.

Analysing the baroque spirit of the film- Andreotti's nervous pacing, the ceremony of the Catholic church, the booming sound of pop music- gets you much further. Atmosphere is at the heart of this movie. What the director wants you to see is the atmosphere of Italian politics- a panorama of the scene in which Andreotti trod and an exploration of what Italian politics was like. For example Andreotti in one scene treads a corridor into a party- but he is still the Premier and his sad glance takes in the corrupt antics of his finance minister. Andreotti stands surrounded by this society and consequently becomes explained by his context in part. The gnomic utterances make sense alongside the anarchic disputation: as the one silent man in a screaming Parliament can bear loss with equanimity and dignity. Andreotti's presence in the film is equivocal and not examined seriously, but Italian politics is presented as riotous and colourful. At the centre strides this implacable and silent figure- wondering amidst the strands of his own memory and the manipulated mafia- whether it tells us anything about him is another matter, but what it does present is a picture of Andreotti in his times.