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— Kathleen Quinlan, Event Horizon

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The East

The East emerges as an exciting piece of filmmaking from the independent scene’s hott —Matt Anderson (review...)

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Political power doesn’t have to be corrupt to enjoy the benefits of corruption. It just has to know how to wink.

One man who understood that is Giulio Andreotti, or Il Divo Giulio (the Divine Julius).

A Man You Don’t Want to Cross

Blu-ray picture is outstanding
Blu-ray picture is outstanding

Giulio Andreotti was an Italian politician a generation ago (he’s still alive in 2009). His official reputation is a lot cleaner than his street reputation. “Everybody knows,” so it seems, that he’s as corrupt as they come, but when the Italian government started cracking down, Andreotti came out smelling like a rose. Il Divo is a portrait of Andreotti in the last months before the crackdown.

Even if you don’t know who Andreotti is — that’s most of us here in the U.S. — he makes a fascinating film character. As depicted in Il Divo he has a hunchback with hands held high on his chest (not unlike Mr. Burns on The Simpsons), ears folded forward from years of wearing heavy glasses, half-lidded eyes, and a calm and quiet disdain that implies an expectation of respect. He’s a man you would not want to cross.

It’s not hard to understand why he was able to remain untainted. Those in Andreotti’s inner circle and those lower down on his org chart understood that dirty deeds were acceptable, so long as they never came to the capo’s official attention.

This devious approach brings to mind a discussion we had in the U.S. over Haliburton’s win of no-bid contracts. Vice President Dick Cheney played no official role, but people who needed his approval understood that he would likely approve of Haliburting winning the contracts. Likewise when the Bush administration was looking for ties to Iraq, nobody in the Pentagon was explicitly pressured to find the nonexistent connection, but it was understood that good soldiers please their superiors (I’m paraphrasing an interview subject in the documentary Why We Fight).

Il Divo is a smart film. If you know your Italian politics, or you like political intrigues, you will appreciate that the movie doesn’t dumb it down. The flip side of that intelligence is that if you are less than alert, you get lost in the tangle. I appreciate the tightly told story, but I admit couldn’t follow every turn.

Consider a corollary: an Italian amico comes to visit you and you decide to watch a double feature: JFK and All the President’s Men. You may not know who Warren, Zapruder, or Haldeman are, but you grew up hearing their names, and in context you can figure out what’s going on. But your Italian friend might request lots of pauses and rewinds to explain the back story, the major players, and the cultural significance. Watching Il Divo, you may wish your Italian friend were sitting next to you with his hand on the remote.

Picture and Sound

Il Divo looks great on Blu-ray. The polished production really pops off the screen, and the picture quality is outstanding. The music is crystal clear, too from the modern-sounding stuff on the soundtrack to the more traditional symphonic score.

DVD Extras

There are four extra features on this Blu-ray.

First and best is the 30-minute making-of documentary. It’s a clear, methodical walk through the various departments: acting, photography, makeup, music.... Each team gets to say what they did and briefly touch on the highlights and challenges. It’s not too long, and the interview subjects are interesting, each talking about his or her passion.

The other three extra features are of limited interest. The 7-minute feature on special effects is a little surprising because Il Divo doesn’t feel like a movie that used special effects. But when a crowded senate or a wide shot in the snow would have been too expensive to shoot, a special effects team came in and did the job.

In the 12-minute interview with writer/director Paolo Sorrentino, he speaks to his Italian audience about their shared history and about Andreotti. As a non-Italian, I didn’t get much from the interview.

Finally, there are a handful of deleted scenes. They are presented without commentary on why they were removed. I didn’t see anything that I feel added to the experience.

How to Use This DVD

Unfortunately, none of the extra features are directed at a non-Italian audience to help them understand the context of the characters and events. So grab a caffeinated drink, and leap right in to the feature. If you’re up for it, choose the making-of featurette.