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" It’s all just hooey. Morality disguised as fact. "
— Liam Neeson, Kinsey

MRQE Top Critic

Creed II

It's all about the importance of character and the ability to face life's challenges. —Matt Anderson (review...)

Creed II

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What a difference a day makes. The day I have in mind is Election Day, November 8, 2016 when we all passed through the Looking Glass. Off in a quiet corner of the filmmaking art, a clever Italian movie from 2013 was also turned on its head. (Well, of course what wasn’t?) In this case though, its almost as if Viva la Liberta was made into a new film. Let me explain.

Enrico Oliveri and Giovanni Ernani are twin brothers so outwardly identical that the two late 40-something men are interchangeable. Enrico is a brilliant Italian politician, a senator and leader of the opposition party. Giovanni is a professor of philosophy and has been until recently institutionalized in an insane asylum. To not have the madman philosopher Giovanni switch places with the politically failing Enrico would be a dramatic crime. Director Roberto Ando has taken the mistaken-identity trope and used it to great effect, making an insightful and comedic comment on politics in the 21st Century and the meaning of a life well led.

Giovanni assumes the role of Senator Oliveri to great success while Enrico goes his own way, retreating to Paris to reconnect with an old lover. So it’s not a true ‘trading places’ story like Twain’s Prince and the Pauper, but the mistaken identity part is straight out of Shakespeare, Mozart, and Mel Brooks. Along the way we get the political speaking-truth-to-Power of Bullworth, the electorate’s gullibility of Being There, and the irony of the wrong man at the helm of Putney Swope and the switched-identity film Dave.

Director Ando does not stop there as he’s also woven in an intricate back-story of the twins’ (both played brilliantly by Toni Servillo) affair with the beautiful Danielle 25 years earlier. It is here that Viva la Liberta departs from the average mistaken-identity storyline by suggesting that Giovanni is the real success in life not Enrico. We see that Danielle favored Giovanni over Enrico and that if she can not have Giovanni right now, she can have his substitute Enrico. Enrico knows this and confronts Danielle and she replies that she loved/loves them both... well, maybe. Meanwhile Giovanni, acting as Senator Oliveri, is busy resuscitating not only Enrico’s career but his party and possibly all of Italy.

And is this not the fantasy of all democracies? The common man, not the politician, is the best person qualified to run the country, is in fact a better person in general because all professional politicians live in the bubble of politics cutting them off from “real life.” It’s “Mr. Smith Goes to Rome”. When Giovanni-as-Enrico addresses a huge crowd, he speaks to them from a place outside the practical reality of the real world. Giovanni tells the electorate what they want to hear and they are enthralled. I hear Brian Wilson signing “Oh wouldn’t it be nice...”.

Ando sticks to his guns and makes his case for Giovanni being the exemplar and Enrico the warning. Giovanni has the joie de vivre Enrico lacks and if Giovanni has spent time in the nut-house, maybe it’s society that’s crazy. Practical Enrico is by comparison a drudge and a cold fish. No wonder Ando paints him as toxic to the Italian sprit.

I do not know if either Enrico Oliveri, or Giovanni Ernani are reflections of actual Italian politicians, and the only real-world politician I heard mentioned in the film was Barack Obama, and that only in passing. But Here is where the inversion and revitalization of the film comes into play. Fundamental to Ando’s thesis is the idea of the outsider come to save the country. I would guess that from 2013 when the film appeared, to November 8, 2016 most Americans watching Viva la Liberta could have drawn a line from Giovanni to Barack. After 11/8/2016, I suspect the line could be drawn to Donald Trump. At the end of Viva, Enrico chides his loyal assistant Andrea for having schemed to replace Enrico with Giovanni. “You gambled on a madman.” Enrico says to Andrea despite Andrea being completely won over by Giovanni and the rising fortunes of Enrico’s party thanks to Giovanni’s guiding light of fantasy and hope. The ‘madman’ comment might have been taken as sour grapes by Enrico before 11/8/2016 and taken as a clear headed warning afterward. Does this totally invert the intention of Ando or strengthen his thesis? Here on Earth 2.0, on the other side of the Looking Glass, anything is possible.

This is why I’m enthralled by Viva la Liberta. Chance and the unlikeliest of events have given this little gem of a film all new legs and a new meaning... a truly strange twist of fate. I hear Judy Collins singing “I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now.”