Italian Film Festival 2014 - Chicago: 'Viva la Libertà'

Political dramedy Viva la Libertà sees one of Italy’s best actors playing twin brothers.

Viva la Libertà

Director: Roberto Andò
Cast: Toni Servillo, Valerio Mastandrea, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi
Year: 2013

Even before Enrico (Toni Servillo) leaves his post, it’s clear he’s going to. As the opposition party leader in Italy, he’s taking the brunt of the plummeting approval ratings heading into the national election, and it’s getting to him.

Just as he approaches the period of the biggest speeches of the year, he disappears. A note left behind explains that he’ll be gone for a few days – no reason is given.

The campaign is in shambles; the party representative is missing. The campaign manager (Valerio Mastandrea) has an idea for a wild short-term solution: what about Enrico’s twin brother?

Viva la Libertà is familiar in the sense that we’ve seen this kind of twin swap in a political setting before, but when it’s Toni Servillo (perhaps Italy’s best working actor) playing the dual role in his first film after the Academy Award-winning The Great Beauty, it’s worth taking a look.

Enrico turns up at an old schoolmate’s (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Human Capital) home in Paris, and she agrees to allow him to hide out for a few days while he takes a breather from the intensity of national politics. Meanwhile, Giovanni, Enrico’s eccentric philosopher twin brother, has assumed his role as party leader and is already making waves.

Giovanni was recently released from an institution, and his nonconformist worldview leads to a controversial, eye-opening interview (he remarks, “If politicians are thieves it’s because their electors are, or would like to be!”) and a philosophy lecture in place of an important political speech. As it turns out, the people love it. Within days, the party’s approval rating begins to turn around at the hands of a man who hasn’t spent a day in his life as a politician.

Director Roberto Andò has been making films for 20 years now, and has always expressed an interest in the effects of relationships on a long-term scale. He drops us into the story without any exposition. We don’t learn much about why Enrico is hated as a politician, or what exactly his relationship to his brother is. The details emerge slowly through stories of the past, and allow us to assemble a blurry picture of these characters’ lives.

In that picture are things such as unrequited love and deeply buried dissatisfactions. Viva la Libertà is billed first as a comedy, but Enrico’s character is, in truth, a sobering, dramatic one.

The twin brothers are crafted brilliantly. I suspect this comes from Andò having written both the screenplay and the original novel from which this story came. He clearly has a core-level understanding of Enrico and Giovanni as two separate people, because it’s striking how initially similar they appear.

There’s no wacky costuming or wildly disparate personalities at play, the twins distinguish themselves in Servillo’s subtle performance(s). They become their own men through little more than differences in facial expressions, senses of humor, and moral outlooks.

Servillo is playing two roles in two languages (in Paris he speaks French). He’s so good at it that Andò never feels tempted to actually put the brothers on screen at the same time – one of the easier ways to call cheap attention to a dual role film. Servillo is a master, and pulls off a great feat once he begins playing not only two identical characters, but two identical characters that occasionally like to pretend to be each other.

We’re left to figure out if we’re seeing Giovanni, Enrico, or Giovanni pretending to be Enrico. You won’t lose track of who’s who unless Andò wants you to.

As Giovanni begins to succeed in place of his brother, Enrico is faced with a terrible question: how does he square the fact that his brother may not just be different than him, but better? The subtext is both sad and cerebral.

The politics in this political drama are somewhat lightweight, and Andò misses out on the bigger picture commentary that may have made his film more lasting. If Viva la Libertà was filled with either more comedy or more intrigue, it may fair better internationally, but as it is, will float on the strength of the performances. Indeed, seeing Servillo play two leads in the same film is an unmissable luxury.

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