VIVA LA LIBERTA’ directed by Roberto Andò (Italy, 2013)

Liberty, far from putting man in possession of himself, ceaselessly alienates him from his essence and his world” – Michel Foucault, Madness & Civilisation

This movie is adapted from director Roberto Andò’s own novel which bore the more Shakespearean title ‘Il Trono Vuoto’ (Literally, ‘The Empty Throne’ or a looser translation could be The Hollow Crown). This association is no coincidence since, as in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and The Comedy of Errors, the two protagonists are twins.

It stars the consistently excellent Toni Servillo who reminds me of the great Scottish character actor Alastair Sim because he has the same droll melancholy that lends itself well to drama or farce. In this film he is able to show both faces.

The first is as a tired, disillusioned politician Enrico Olivieri. As leader of an opposition party, his support is dwindling and his standing even among his own members is on the wane.

Weary of the rituals and close to a nervous breakdown, he takes an impromptu leave of absence leaving his party in a quandary. In desperation they opt for a high-risk strategy of using his estranged twin brother Giovanni Ernani as a stopgap solution.

Giovanni is a reclusive philosopher whose gift of the gab and unconventional style soon wins admirers. His qualities are undermined by the fact that he suffers from bipolar disorder. Although we don’t actually get to see any mood swings that go with this condition, his fragile psychological state partly explains why he should agree to take over the public role of his brother.

He is like a more intellectual version of Chance the simple(ton) gardener in Hal Ashby’s adaptation of Jerzy Kosinski’s novel Being There. As with Chance, his sense of playfulness and serenity derives from seeing the world as an innocent.

Through his devil may care manner he starts to gain the respect and support his more serious, introverted brother had lost. This culminates in a massive public rally of Obama-esque proportions where he delivers a speech that unites young and old, men and women, blue and white-collar workers in a way that only truly happens on celluloid.

Meanwhile, the real Enrico is finding himself in Paris reigniting his passion for an old flame (now married), his knowledge of French and a love for cinema. He moves around with hardly anyone mentioning his uncanny resemblance to the rising politician in his homeland; a telling (yet probably unwitting) illustration of how the Italian political scene is largely ignored in the rest of Europe.

By examining the role of the state in relation to the civilian, this movie tentatively explores the dichotomy between sobriety and spontaneity in public affairs. I say ‘tentatively’ because the filmmaker holds back from any deep analysis of these contradictory expressions.

The implicit implication that Italy could be better run by a man on the edge of sanity is a daring one and on the eve of the elections, the timing of such a bold statement couldn’t be better. But fine as Servillo’s performance is, the movie lacks the courage to take the premise to its logical conclusion.

What I really wanted to see was a depiction of politicians in their true colours; as dishonest charlatans who play fast and loose with concepts like integrity, justice and freedom.

What we get is a movie which essentially holds onto the slim premise that politicians are capable of offering a cure for society’s ills when the reality is that they are part of the disease.