For about as long as they’ve been making movies, there has been an attraction to stories involving imposters – be they simple look-a-likes or twins, one person steps away or is removed from his place of authority or power, and before you can think too hard or too long, he’s been replaced by someone meant to convey that all is as it should be. Everything is ok – it’s all good.
In many of these films, like Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, or Richard Dreyfuss in Moon Over Parador, or Kevin Klein in Dave, and even The Marx Brothers in Duck Soup (the famous mirror scene), the purpose is humor and often it is broad humor. But humor sometimes has a point to make.
Humor often wields the sharp end of the stick; and so we have parodies, and satires all meant as social commentary, or attempting to deliver a specific social or political message. Such a film is Long Live Freedom, or as it was called in Italy, Viva La Liberta.
Released in 2013, the film begins as we meet the head of the Italy’s Opposition Party, one Enrico Oliveri. He’s the head of the party, and once upon a time, he might have been considered as the party’s favorite son, and a candidate for the office of the Prime Minster of Italy.
But his party has fallen out of favor, and Enrico’s personal stock has fallen even further. His own party hasn’t any confidence in him. At an important conference he speaks dully, and he is heckled unmercifully by a shouting protestor. Enrico’s staff thinks this protestor was a plant by the unnamed ‘they’.
But the reality is that Enrico lacks passion, and fires no longer burn in his belly. He might not be a hack, but he is a burn-out. But this particular burn-out can read the handwriting on the wall, as well as take note of the howling of the newspaper columns, and hear the growing noise made by the talking heads on TV.
So not wanting to, and unable to take it any more – he vanishes into the wind. Not even his personal advisor, or press secretary, Andrea Bottini (played by Valerio Mastandrea – above), is told. The reality is that Enrico is driven to Paris and he is going to stay in hiding at the home of a former lover, Danielle, played by Valeria Bruni Tedeschi.
Back in Rome, there’s a clamor of course. Bottini makes up a story about an unspecified illness, and runs with that for a while. But the whispering grows louder. The President of Italy calls Bottini in and tells him –
Right now, the country can’t allow the absenteeism of the opposition.
Bottini finds out from Enrico’s wife, that there is a twin brother, who no one has seen in twenty-five years because he’s been institutionalized. This is the bipolar Giovanni Ermani, a philosopher and author of a book called The Illusion Of Living. Of course he is an identical twin in looks. Italy’s favorite actor, Toni Servillo plays both roles. Simply – Servillo looks like someone who might be a younger Michael Caine, or an older Kevin Klein. But however he looks, there’s no doubt that Toni Servillo is superb in this film.
Bottini’s plan is to have Giovanni impersonate his brother Enrico. Not bad on the surface, but there’s a catch. Giovanni is a mad man.
When Bottini asks him, Are you crazy? Giovanni replies – Yes, so they say.
But then the plan is turned on its head. Giovanni becomes the media darling. His ratings go up, up, and up. The country can’t get enough of him. He’s filled with passion, and his star brurns brighter with each and every day. After a brief interview, a journalist asks Bottini –
What fucking illness did he have? He’s another man!
Meanwhile back in Paris, Enrico lives in the darkness. He is afraid to go out during the day, lest he be recognized. But his life changes. He is unrecognized by the Parisiens. He blends in, he fits in. New and exciting things happen for him. He works on a film, he acquires a new and young lover.
But he still has an ear to the media. He may have left Rome, but Rome dwells within his political heart. And within Rome, at it’s core, Giovanni’s is taking Rome’s breath away.
Directed by Roberto Ando, who adapted his own novel into the screenplay for the film, Viva La Liberta has plenty of satire – surely it is a stark reminder to Italians about the sorry state of the Italian political scene. Surely it is a statement about the Italian voting populace who are charmed by the impractical and often ambiguous diatribes that issue from Giovanni’s mouth. I mean, being able to quote Bertolt Brecht – is this a quality you look for in the down and dirty, rough and tumble world of politics?
In Being There, Peter Sellers, played a simpleton who had no education, and had no skills other than gardening, and watching television – yet he rose to become an advisor to powerful business interests and an insider in the corridors of power of Washington DC.
Giovanni is not Chance the Gardner. He is erudite, and urbane and has more than enough charisma to charm the voters as well as the media. But he is a ticking time bomb – and a mad man.
Ando’s film is smooth and polished. It looks grand and watching Servillo playing both roles in an unforgettably pleasurable experience. On the one hand, you have a politician who is taking anti-depressant meds, and on the other hand, a bipolar person, the politician’s twin brother who is taking anti-psychotic meds. The film really isn’t about what is wrong with either of them. Instead it is a journey towards better days for both.
But it never quite makes a strong enough statement about political misadventures, and it doesn’t have many laugh-out-loud moments.
Yet it is a film that I’d watch again, and I will have no problem recommending. You can see it via Netflix streaming. I’ll give it a three-point five rating on the one to five scale. Have a look at the trailer: