Three times Prime Minister of Italy, twice its Defence Minister, and, on occasion, its Foreign Minister and Minister of the Interior, Giulio Andreotti is one of the country's most important elder statesmen - and, it has often been argued, one of its most corrupt. Over the years he has been caught up in numerous scandals ranging from kidnapping to Mafia-organised murder, yet he has always managed to battle his way through the courts and come out clean. The nicknames he has acquired in this process are numerous. Il Divo takes a blunt yet stylish look at the life of this remarkable man.

It's a big subject. A single year of Andreotti's life might have been quite enough material for a strong feature film, and this film struggles as a result of trying to take on the whole thing at once - but then, that's quite in keeping with much of Andreotti's own approach to life. Sleeping very little and working at all hours, he's famous for saying that there is nothing in life beyond politics. His passion for pure politics and his skill in games of power are such that it's hard to pin down any other motives, and the film struggles with this too, unwilling to be too pushy with opinions of its own. Yet despite these difficulties, it's an energetic and generally quite watchable affair.

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Part of this is due to Paolo Sorrentino's assured direction. Each shot is beautifully framed, often with a nod to famous Italian political design work, and it's also superbly lit. There's a lot of comedy in this, strengthened by the strange appearance of the central figure himself - Toni Servillo conjures up a remarkable similarity to Andreotti, from his hunched shoulders to his peculiar bat-like ears, but he is also able to put across the unusual intelligence and dry wit that made this otherwise distant man so compelling. As he strides through elegant staterooms we feel that we are seeing the world very much in his terms, yet the women in his life are not slow to question the real significance of his wisecracks, nor to suggest that he might not always understand what he's doing.

Though the film is slow in places and Andreotti's ambiguity can sometimes leave the viewer feeling too disconnected, there are moments of such brilliance - notably the soliloquy on good and evil that he undertakes toward the end - that it's easy to forgive these flaws.

If you're unfamiliar with Italian politics you may find that you struggle with information overload - this might best be viewed on a DVD where you can keep rewatching busy scenes - but it's certainly cinematic in its visual scope and those who know its subject well will be delighted by its numerous in-jokes. It's a sharp, fast-talking film, never patronising its audience, and - like all good biopics - it will leave you feeling that you want to know more.

Reviewed on: 21 Feb 2009
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The life and times of notorious Italian politician Guilio Andreotti.
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Director: Paolo Sorrentino

Writer: Paolo Sorrentino

Starring: Toni Servillo, Anna Bonaiuto, Piera Degli Esposti, Paolo Graziosi, Giulio Bosetti, Flavio Bucci, Carlo Buccirosso, Giorgio Colangeli, Alberto Cracco, Lorenzo Gioielli, Gianfelice Imparato

Year: 2008

Runtime: 118 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Italy, France

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