After watching this film, I cannot say I know any more about the nature of politics, specifically Italian politics, than I did before. Nor do I really know Giulio Andreotti’s, a real politician tried for mafia ties and corruption but never convicted and one of the longest running politicians, motives behind what he did to his rivals. In order to enjoy this film, I didn’t need to learn these seemingly vital facts. Instead, I now know how a skeptic like Paolo Sorrentino (the writer-director of this film) could paint a stodgy morose older man into a ridiculous man.
Andreotti has several markers and quirks that make him a unique political figure. He is exacting and precise. He is balding, stoops, wears big thick black glasses that make his ears curl, and he has violent migraines that force him into the twilight of most situations. He poses a very dry wit and nonverbal tics that allow you to see his impatience with you without him telling you. He never gives away his opinion of anything nor does he break when faced with a trying situation. All of these combined have made him one of the most revered politicians in Italian government at the time that this film takes place, but also hides various skeletons that are begging to come out.
The story of this film takes place between the last time that Andreotti gets elected as prime minister (means a different thing than in England.. He is more like the leader of the Senate than a president) and when he is tried for corruption and mafia ties. The castle of sand that he very exactly built for himself begins to crumble. He is surrounded by his cronies who do his bidding and are introduced in a sequence that is reminiscent of more crime comedies than crime dramas (they each have a theme song, they each are shown arriving at Andreotti’s lair and getting out of their cars in slow motion, one even pretends to shoot a gun at the camera) but come to be some of his biggest handicaps. These men bribe other politicians for their votes, throw massive bunga bunga parties (at least what I would imagine them to be) in ancient castles, and defect at the first sign of trouble. They are sources of ridiculous exaggerations and hilarity. For example one older man with a balding head and a short stature with an austere air slides down the corridor of an important political building that he was just seen wheeling and dealing mere cinematic minutes before. Sorrentino does a great job of undercutting these serious scenes of corruption.
Andreotti wants to be seen as man of the people who holds court in his house every Sunday in order to hear his underling’s pleas for food and money. He wants to be seen as a true Catholic with a fierce allegiance to the Vatican. He wants to be seen as a highly intelligent and witty man. He is seen as these things but he is also seen as a corrupt mastermind behind awful killings, bribes,and concessions in order for him to remain in power. How he avoided being punished at all is beyond belief.