The Prince of Darkness, the Hunchback, the Black Pope, the Fox; opening intertitles in Paolo Sorrentino’s blistering, bang-bang biopic of Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti tell us that the “senator-for-life” has many nicknames. There’s a reason that the filmmaker’s portrait of the politico, played by Toni Servillo, takes its title from Andreotti’s most omnipotent moniker: “the God.” For decades, this inscrutable figure pulled the strings in the country’s ruling Christian Democratic party. (“Apart from the Punic wars,” Andreotti rasps, “I’ve been credited with everything that’s ever happened in Italy.”) Though Sorrentino’s film picks up after interfactional betrayal and investigations into alleged Mafia ties crippled Andreotti’s career in the ’80s, his legacy as a symbol of power permeates each scene. Every gesture represents a command; every glance signals a vendetta.
Whether this Cannes Jury Prize winner heralds, alongside Matteo Garrone’s Gomorrah, Italian cinema’s phoenixlike rise is debatable. But what isn’t arguable is that the film delivers a scathing indictment, with Servillo’s Nosferatu-esque performance used to particularly critical ends. Sorrentino’s cine-flashiness trips over itself even as it visually wows—check out the Caligula-throws-a-rave reception scene—and certain nationalistic elements can’t help but get lost in translation. Yet Il Divo taps into something that’s indeed borderless: Americans recognize political corruption and backroom conspiracies even if we don’t intimately know the players.—David Fear