Viva la Libertà (2013)

Directed by Robert Andrò

Written by Robert Andrò

Starring Toni Servillo, Valerio Mastandrea, Valeria Bruno Tedeschi

Run time 94 minutes

MPAA rating not rated

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“Viva la Libertà” has little to do with libertà but everything to do with politics, personality, and fooling all the people all the time.

We’re in contemporary Italy, where Enrico (Toni Servillo–“La grande belleza,” “Il Divo”), a senator and leader of the government’s opposition party, is failing to ignite enough spark to not only defeat the majority party but to fire up any enthusiasm at all. What to do? What better than to disappear, which is what Enrico does, taking refuge in the home of his former girlfriend, Danielle (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) and her husband.

Frantic with anxiety, his handler/minder, Bottini (Valerio Mastrandrea), hits upon the idea of tracking down Enrico’s identical twin brother, Giovanni (Toni Servillo again), to pretend to be Enrico and participate in a scheduled interview. Giovanni has just been released from a mental hospital, and he’s quite willing to step in and serve his country. As Enrico, the playful and witty–and totally clueless–Giovanni, a former philosophy professor, charms the media and, eventually, the members of his party and the public, with his riddles, haiku, and blithe attempts to “free Italians from fear.” Suddenly, the opposition party wins the masses.

The idea of an impostor standing in for a leader isn’t new (Ivan Reitman’s 1993 comedy, “Dave”), nor is that of a “mad” man talking more sense than a “sane” one (think of the inimitable Peter Sellers in Hal Ashby’s “Being There.” ). Yet “Viva la Libertà,” written and directed by Roberto Andò from his own novel, has some unique charm.

For one thing, there’s Toni Servillo, whose humorous and at the same time weary face is worth watching through almost every scene of the film. For another, there are the scenes of film-making–Danielle’s husband is a famous director, and Enrico finds relief from his melancholy by taking up the duties of a prop man. And the wit with which Giovanni, the mad twin (“Are you crazy?” “Yes, so they say”) wins the people’s hearts–humming, talking in riddles–is charming. Giovanni even succeeds in getting the uptight female Chancellor of an unnamed country–Germany’s Angela Merkel, perhaps?–to dance the tango with him, barefoot.

A problem is that little is done to differentiate the two “twins” visually. Of course they’re meant to look identical–and, being performed by the same actor, they are–but more effort in clarifying which twin we’re watching at each moment would have helped prevent some confusion.

“Viva la libertà,” which was released in Italy in 2013, won prizes for best script and best supporting actor (for Valerio Mastrandrea). It probably won’t win any prizes here, but it’s an amusing bit of entertainment.

San Francisco ,
Renata Polt, a freelance writer and critic, is the translator and editor of A Thousand Kisses: A Grandmother's Holocaust Letters.