'Il Divo' outdoes himself

We recently came to the end of eight years spent under the leadership of a fortunate son so widely proclaimed Worst President Ever one suspects scientific research might confirm that diagnosis as fact if given a chance. Yet it helps to put these things in context. What do we really know about bad, very bad, ultra-bad politicians? After all, this is America, forever young—perhaps we simply haven’t had the time yet to build up toward truly world-class horror by our governmental pacesetters.

Italy—a beautiful country of diverse and fascinating cultures, a cradle of Western civilization that spawned Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Verdi and Fellini—has Mussolini, Berlusconi, and La Cicciolina, a short gamut running from the reactionary to the ridiculous, the lattermost of course being the world’s most successful porn star turned politico. But they couldn’t equal the mind-boggling record of Giulio Andreotti, often considered the nation’s single most influential 20th-century figure. Currently hobbling toward his third decade as a "Lifetime Senator" in Parliament at age 89 following many numerous terms as Prime Minister, Minister of Defense and in other high-ranking posts. He’s still a star—even, or particularly, as portrayed in the Cannes Prix du Jury winner Il Divo, which opens at area theatres this Friday.

One assumes Andreotti views that award as just another deserved entitlement, even if he’s publicly dismissed the unflattering portrait itself as simply another slander in a life that’s always magnetized false (or so he says) blame.

Screenwriter turned director Paolo Sorrentino’s film knows it has a dauntingly large subject to deal with, and copes by treating everything around that subject as larger-than-life. Il Divo (the man’s other popular nicknames include the Sphinx, Black Pope, and Beezlebub) is stylistically somewhere between the "operatic" sweep of the Godfather movies—disparaged G-III even includes a character modeled after Andreotti—and the more jumpily kinetic flamboyance of Guy Ritchie’s crime capers. It’s very flashy, with the poker-faced title figure played by Toni Servillo (the Camorrah’s toxic-waste disposal executive in Gomorrah) a creepily still center around which all decadence, double-dealing, and assassinations swirl.

There’s a lot of all-of-the-above—but especially rubouts (sometimes masquerading as suicides or natural deaths) of Andreotti’s allies and enemies. The most infamous was the 1979 murder of Mino Pecorelli, a journalist who had linked him in print to both the Mafia and the prior year’s abduction/killing of his political rival, former Prime Minister Aldo Moro. Then the PM himself, Andreotti refused to negotiate with the kidnappers, despite pleas from the Pope. In 1999, Andreotti was convicted—then in 2003 acquitted, after a three-year second trial—of involvement in Pecorelli’s death. The myriad accusations of malfeasance he’s attracted have resulted in many other such arguable miscarriages of justice, none of which have put him behind bars yet.

Poker-faced, paranoid, pious, power-mad, fond of doling out petty kindnesses (shades of Checkers!) and essentially humorless, Andreotti as portrayed here is part Tricky Dick, part Chauncey Gardner, part Sphinx (another of his real-life nicknames). Such monomaniacal genius is almost unfathomable—and since grasping him in simple human terms isn’t quite possible (or even fitting), Il Divo can only gaze awestruck at the creature’s cold majesty. In Italy, this film can be taken for real life, or at least an educated guess. Here, it plays more like an exceptionally high-concept horror movie in which the monster is neither man nor beast, but a little of both, with dangerous ideations of omnipotent Godhood.

One fact is indisputable: You gotta love any horror movie that ends with Trio’s 1982 synthpop novelty hit "Da, Da, Da."