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What does the title Il Divo mean? Well, it comes from "Divo Giulio", the Italian translation of "Divus Iulius", a Latin expression used to describe Julius Caesar. "Divo" translates as "divine", and the term was employed in regards to Caesar's outstanding power as well as his alleged otherworldly ancestry (the founder of his family, the Gens Iulia, was Aeneas, son of Venus). But of course, that has nothing to do with Paolo Sorrentino's masterpiece: the title refers to another Giulio, who has also been called "Divo" because of his considerable influence and longevity (he was 89 when the film was released). That man is Giulio Andreotti, largely considered the most important political figure in 20th century Italy.
Although the unabridged subtitle of the Italian version reads "The extraordinary life of Giulio Andreotti", it doesn't chronicle all of the famed politician's life. Instead, it focuses on the most important period concerning his career: from 1978 to the early '90s. 1978 is, of course, when Aldo Moro, a member of the right-wing party Democrazia Cristiana just like Andreotti (Toni Servillo), was kidnapped and later executed by the Red Brigades. Andreotti shows no sign of emotion when he learns of the event, as usual: he has always been a quiet, secretive man. All that matters to him is the significant amount of power he gains over the years. As he points out when asked why he doesn't talk to God when he goes to church, "priests vote, God doesn't". Nevertheless, he certainly enjoys a little help from above when he is accused of various illegal activities, working with the Mafia and ordering assassinations being the most serious ones (let's not forget some conspiracy theorists believe he contributed to Moro's death, a conjecture that is dealt with in the film).
Sorrentino obviously put a lot of research into his work, and the opening title cards, which explain the movie's context, are his way of making sure viewers don't find his effort too confusing. It clearly paid off, since the picture walked away with the Jury Prize at the 2008 Cannes Festival, silencing rumors about it being "too Italian". Predictably, the real Andreotti wasn't too impressed (word has it he even considered taking legal action against the filmmakers at one point). He obviously couldn't admit what happened on screen was true, so he made the following statement: "I don't agree with Sorrentino's portrayal of me, but I understand he had to make certain dramatic choices to make it interesting; my real life is actually quite boring". He has a point: there's a certain operatic grandeur to the scenes of the "Divo" walking around in government buildings and talking with his collaborators, a bit like in The Godfather. This gives the picture the greatness of a Greek tragedy, combined with the fiery spirit of politically charged movies like, say, Oliver Stone's body of work.
The Stone comparison isn't accidental, since he directed Nixon, which, much like Il Divo, depended hugely on its leading man. Stone had Anthony Hopkins, while Sorrentino has his Robert De Niro, namely the superb Servillo, whose transformation isn't a mere make-up job (to see what he really looks like, one ought to check out the equally magnificent Gomorra): the Neapolitan actor doesn't just play Andreotti, he becomes him. It's a performance that gets past mimicry or impersonation - it's Andreotti as a person, not a movie character.
So, the concerned party's opinion aside, everything speaks in favor of this ambitious, thought-provoking, stunning opus. In one word, to keep in with the complete title: extraordinary.
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