Il Divo - Toni Servillo plays enigmatic Italian politician Giulio Andreotti in Paolo Sorrentino’s satirical film Il Divo

To Italians the British must appear rank amateurs when it comes to political corruption. While British MPs fall on their swords over piddling expenses claims, Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi remains serenely in power, impervious to reports of his buffoonish antics, sleazy private life and questionable business dealings – but then it does help that he owns or controls most of Italy’s media.

A similarly unsinkable Italian politician of an earlier generation is the subject of Paolo Sorrentino’s daring biopic Il Divo, a surreal and sardonic portrait of the figure who dominated the country’s politics for much of the 1970s and 80s  – long-serving Christian Democrat leader Giulio Andreotti.

Il Divo - Toni Servillo plays enigmatic Italian politician Giulio Andreotti in Paolo Sorrentino’s satirical film Il Divo

At the age of 90, Andreotti remains a life senator in Italy’s parliament – despite standing trial on charges of colluding with the Mafia, despite accusations of being in cahoots with right-wing Masonic lodge P2, and despite being found guilty of ordering the contract killing of a journalist.

A more conventional filmmaker would be defeated by Andreotti’s murky history, but Sorrentino’s flamboyantly Baroque approach – full of dazzling visual flourishes worthy of Scorsese in his pomp – delivers an indelible portrait. Brilliant in the leading role, Toni Servillo gets Andreotti’s look uncannily right, from his unmistakeable hunched shoulders and owlish spectacles all the way down to the weird pigeon-toed gait that makes him looks as though he is moving on castors.

Of course, no one as enigmatic and inscrutable as Andreotti is going to be pinned down by a film, but as anyone who’s followed Italian politics will attest, Sorrentino’s chilling, tragi-comic satire is painfully credible.

Opening with a shocking montage of assassinations, of politicians, bankers and senior policemen, Sorrentino then shows us Andreotti’s political cronies strolling (in slow motion) to a cabinet meeting and looking for all the world like cocky, well-heeled Mafiosi. As he reveals, though, in another stunning montage towards the end of the film, these wise guys all came a cropper in the Tangentopoli (Bribesville) corruption scandals that wiped out Italy’s political elite in the early 1990s.

Yet the mud never really stuck to Andreotti and Berlusconi became the beneficiary of the fallout from Tangentopoli – history repeating itself first as tragedy and then as farce. While British MPs blush over moats and duck islands, it seems Italy’s leaders have no shame.

Sorrentino gives us a brutal lesson in the workings of Italian power. Read more.

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