Monday, October 19, 2009

Il Divo / The Deity

When Andreotti dies, they'll remove the black box
from his hump and we'll finally know how it all went.
(Beppe Grillo)

The history of post-War Italy is the story of one long, uninterrupted conspiracy. From May 1st 1947, when a commando taking orders from gangster Salvatore Giuliano opened fire on a peaceful Labour Day demonstration at Portella della Ginestra, Sicily, through to the bombings at Piazza Fontana and at the railway station in Bologna, the subversive plots of the Propaganda 2 lodge and the atrocious blockbuster-style murders of judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino along with their police escorts, the relationship between politics, the mafia and the forces of reaction and neofascism have been made visible - in an often pointedly, arrogantly spectacular manner - and at the same time obfuscated, hidden by layers of state secrecy, smokescreen operations, disinformation campaigns, juridical impotence.

Few of these crimes have resulted in convictions, and when they did it was never the instigators, the masterminds who went to jail, but always just gli esecutori materiali, the criminal workforce, mirroring the manner in which social justice was administered in the country at large. The occasional judgments that dared to go further, following the trail of blood from our streets into the rooms of the decision-makers, were either reversed on appeal or fell just short of naming names, pointing generically to a palace of power, or to the headquarters of our secret service, intimating that beyond that the investigators had not been allowed to go. There was always a door at the end of a long corridor that could not be opened.

Thus for instance there was a period of time - precisely between 17 November 2002 and 30 October 2003 - when the pre-eminent politician of our Republican era, Giulio Andreotti, was guilty before the nation and the State of having ordered the murder of journalist Mino Pecorelli, a crime for which he was to spend 24 years in prison; but that was all duly reversed by the Court of Cassation, and the door was shut again, as it almost always has been. Andreotti has since been able to return not only to his life as a free citizen, but also to the post of lifetime senator, one of Italy’s highest honours.

In a country where political longevity is in itself a likely sign of culpability, the figure of Andreotti is amongst the most notable constants in this whole history: he was there in 1947 as a member of our constitutional assembly when Giuliano’s men mowed down the Labour Day marchers; and he was there again for his seventh and last term as a Prime Minister in 1992, when a portion of the motorway near Capaci was blown up just as the car of Giovanni Falcone drove by. More significantly, his and that of his fellow Christian Democrats was the power that to a lesser or greater degree all of these murders and acts of domestic terrorism served to cement; his was the interest that was being served.

People who marvel at Silvio Berlusconi’s ability to withstand scandals relating to the financing of his enterprises would do well to reflect on this: Italians have accepted far worse from their leaders. Underlying that acceptance is a failure to process history, the diffuse sense that everybody knew everything and at the same time nobody knew anything: just as our judiciary and our institutions were sometimes able to investigate but always powerless to indict and prosecute, so as a society we have always stopped short of making that final connection and withdrawing our trust and our votes from the people who stood to benefit from the brutality that surrounds us.

Your lively, innocent, enchanted eyes didn't know, don't know and will never know. They have no idea of the deeds that power must commit to ensure the well-being and development of the country.

For too long that power was me. The monstrous, unavowable contradiction: Perpetrating evil to guarantee good. The monstrous contradiction that made me a cynical man that even you couldn't decipher.

Your lively, innocent eyes don't know the responsibility. The direct and indirect responsibility for all the carnage in Italy from 1969 to 1984 that left precisely 236 dead and 817 injured.

To all the families of the victims I say that I confess. I confess that it was my fault, my most grievous fault. I'll say it, even if it's pointless. Havoc used to destabilize the country, to provoke terror to isolate the extremist parties and strengthen the centre ones like the Christian Democrats... has been described as "tension strategy". It would be more correct to say: "Survival strategy".

Roberto, Michele, Giorgio, Carlo Alberto, Giovanni, Mino, dear Aldo, by vocation or necessity, all confirmed lovers of the truth. All bombs ready to explode that were defused into silence. All of them thinking truth is the right thing, but actually it's the end of the world. We can't allow the end of the world in the name of what is right.

Thus Andreotti's fantasy confession, in the form of an interior monologue addressed to his wife Lidia, in Paolo Sorrentino's extraordinary and important Il divo (The Deity, 2008). Andreotti himself, who saw the film at a private screening ahead of its premiere, described it as a mascalzonata, a cowardly trick played on a man whose power had waned, and one might well ponder on the film's timing and the position of relative safety and remove from which the accusations are levelled. But Il divo isn't so much about Andreotti the man as it is about truth and politics, truth in our politics, in our lives. And like Nanni Moretti's Il caimano (The Caiman, 2006) it finds us wanting, unable to interrogate our history or pass meaningful judgments - unequal, victimised parties to that Faustian bargain that has kept the likes of Andreotti and Berlusconi in power and the country from being torn apart by its social tensions, its historical contradictions, its desire to seek the truth and pursue a different kind of justice.

Il divo is a cosmic tragedy - its protagonist casting a shadow so obviously reminiscent of Shakespeare's Richard - and it rivals in ferocity some our best cinema di denuncia, from Rosi to Petri to Damiani, without yet matching its civil and moral outrage. In this it reflects I think the different historical moment, the sense of things universally known yet so effectively and complicitly removed from the collective consciousness. The problem for us has become how to sensitise ourselves again to the enormity of those offences, how to short-circuit the logic of listless acceptance of this truculent history of ours: flying cars, exploding trains, the enemies of the state silenced with bullets and strychnine-laced coffees, or left to swing under a bridge in London. Sorrentino treats it for what it is, a grotesque gallery of pulp fictions, compressed to fit the duration of the screening in a rapid-fire sequence that leaves little time to pity the victims. And perhaps that’s what it felt like to Giulio Andreotti, our seven times Prime Minister, twenty-eight times cabinet minister, who lived through it all and had to keep it all quiet.

I have something else too: A vast archive in place of an imagination.
Every time I mention it, those who should shut up do so, as if by magic.

Andreotti’s private archive, where information wasn’t so much collected as it was made to disappear. Perhaps some day it will be recovered and its truths will pour forth, providing materials to historians, journalists and other chroniclers of a century full of darkness. But in the meantime it is the man himself, that hunched, frail old man, whose mind alone knows all that there is to know, and who therefore holds the key to all that silence.

There is in that respect an image that will stay with me, and it isn’t in Sorrentino’s film: it is Andreotti himself, taking part some time after the release of Il divo in one of those insufferable Sunday afternoon variety shows that infest Italian television. Asked by the host a grotesquely misguided yet at the same time absolutely typical question - “What about the children, Mr Prime Minister, what future do you wish for our children?” - Andreotti, then aged eighty-nine, remained frozen, seemingly unaware that he had even been asked a question. After nearly a minute the programme cut to commercials, and when it came back Andreotti had recovered from what was in all likelihood a mild stroke and was able to continue. To even point you to that episode, to that moment of human frailty, and link to the video of it, may seem unnecessary and cruel, another mascalzonata. But it struck me then, as it does now, that it was an emblematic moment: that long, uncomfortable, interminable silence, in response to a meaningless question he had no doubt been fed in advance, stood for all the other silences that had come before in the face of much more serious interrogations, and his serene, sphinx-like expression spoke of a man who had come out on the other side of a life-long and almost heroic struggle against the truth.

Il divo will be showing at the Italian Film Festival on the following dates:

Wellington Embassy Oct 20
Christchurch Rialto Oct 22, 23, 24, 25
Dunedin Rialto Oct 30, 31 Nov 2
Nelson Suter Nov 5, 6, 7, 8
Napier Century Nov 12, 13, 14, 17
Tauranga Rialto Nov 19, 20, 21, 22


Philip said...

I saw it a couple of months ago and was very impressed (as I was by The Consequences of Love and The Family Friend), despite finding the political background almost totally incomprehensible - I remember the Calvi affair, and I had a vague inkling of who Aldo Moro was, but I couldn't keep up with the rest no matter how many helpful subtitles the director supplied. Probably thanks to my vantage point on the other side of Europe, I also found it extremely funny, though in the blackest possible way. What I remember best is Toni Servillo's prissy-spidery walk, the predatory mincing of an ancient nosferatu who primly deplores the sight of blood.

Word Verification: messnous, Greek term for the rhetorical device of disarranging the letters of a word for teh comic effcet and/or the annoyance resulting therefrom.

Unknown said...

Curnow did an Aldo Moro poem.

Giovanni Tiso said...

Probably thanks to my vantage point on the other side of Europe, I also found it extremely funny, though in the blackest possible way.

I remember reading a description of the premiere at Cannes and it seems that everybody was laughing except for the Italians in the audience. I recognised the humour (especially in the fauna that surrounds Andreotti - Sbardella, Cirino Pomicino, Evangelisti) but found it pretty harrowing on the whole.

Curnow did an Aldo Moro poem.

Sorrentino excerpts in the film one of the harshet passages on Andreotti from Moro's writings during his imprisonment: "One can be dull but honest, dull but good, dull but full of fervour. Well, Honourable Mr Andreotti, you lack human fervour. Along with the goodness, wisdom, flexibility, transparency that undeniably make up the few real Christian Democrats that exist in the world. You'll last a little longer, or a little less, but you'll vanish without a trace. You'll be a mere news item, especially now that it suits you."

Paul said...

Beautifully written, Dottore. I spent a few days with Andreotti and his gang as a Liaison Officer to the Italian delegation at a Group of Seven meeting. They were not pretty.

Giovanni Tiso said...

Oh, I am impressed though.

I was asked to interpret for Ignazio La Russa once, but punching your client in the nuts in front of foreign dignitaries is frowned upon in my profession, so I had to pass.

Daleaway said...

I am compelled to keep reading you, Giovanni - you are an education...

Giovanni Tiso said...

Thank you, Daleaway, you are *very* kind to say that. I feel the same way about your comments here and Deborah's blog (am I wrong to think that it is our original connection?).

Anonymous said...

Brilliant review!

Megan Clayton said...

They know something we don't know,
the singing coffins beneath the streets,
the walls pulled down for paving stones,
the skull of unexpected smallness.

Vox populi or vox humana
get busted up like broken tiles
or start that way, as murmurs, rumours,
the truths so easily taken back.