Two of this season’s most potent movies deal with the nasty extremes of Italian politics. After scoring big at Cannes last year, Gomorrah and Il Divo (which took the grand prix and jury prize, respectively) are having their moments stateside. Gomorrah, a horrifying and not-at-all-glamorous examination of the Neapolitan mafia, opened February 13 at IFC; two months later, it’s done so well it’s still playing.
Paolo Sorrentino’s Il Divo opens April 24 at Lincoln Plaza. A brooding portrait of one of Italy’s infamous politicians, it goes way beyond the conventional biopic. Toni Servillo (who’s also in Gomorrah, as a toxic-waste-dumping mobster) took on the role of seven-time prime minister Giulio Andreotti without studying videotapes of him, Sorrentino reveals in the press notes, and his characterization—protruding ears, constipated gait, and a voice that’s rarely much more than a whisper—recalls Klaus Kinski’s Nosferatu. Meanwhile, Sorrentino’s fractured narrative and fluid, show-stopping tracking shots undoubtedly owe something to Bertolucci’s The Conformist. Repeatedly accused, but never convicted, of everything from having mafia ties to ordering assassinations, Andreotti is also known as “The Sphinx,” “The Fox,” “The Hunchback,” and (my favorite) “The Black Pope.” Makes you think: If American pundits had more brio, who knows how we’d be referring to Dick Cheney?
Considering his 90-year-old subject is still active, some might have expected Sorrentino to wait a few years (for his own safety) before taking him on. Gomorrah director Matteo Garrone deserves extra points for courage, too. Robert Saviano, the young journalist who wrote the book it’s based on, has been under police protection since 2006.