Throwback: Whom Do We Still Count? The Strange Political Relevancy of Viva la Libertà

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*originally published September 2015

There are clear distinctions between being a news junkie and a political fiend, and I will wholeheartedly admit I am the former rather than the latter.

I have a bad habit of turning CNN on for background noise while gussying up in the morning or for background noise when I’m puttering around the house. To make matters worse, I’ll typically put the news back on after I return from work, keeping it on while I’m eating dinner. Usually, after an hour, I’ve had enough of death, decay, and destruction that spews out into the world around us (and I wonder why at times I am so melancholic, really!). But the news has become a bad habit for me.

At this stage of the game with the 2016 election approaching, my news junkie comrades and myself are constantly bombarded with political news all day, everyday. And even though I am a news junkie, I find politics so incredibly boring that I want to go to sleep before finishing this sentence. I keep up; I dip a toe in the giant pool that is the nonsense of Washington because it’s important to keep tabs on what’s happening, but Lord, I just find it so boring.

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However, even with my dislike for politics and my attention span of a rodent, Italian director Roberto Andò managed pretty successfully to keep me engaged in the insanity that is the post-Berlusconi Italian political scene with his 2013 “comedy”-drama, Viva la Libertà (I’m wondering who considers this a comedy; is it supposed to be like an internal high-five, that-was-really-smart type of funny or laugh-out-loud, spleen-straining funny) .

Well, he actually only barely engaged me, which is more than I can say for other political films. I felt like I was in my Shakespeare II college class, beating the already dead horse by analyzing and reanalyzing Richard III line-by-line again. What brutal hell, but whatever makes you smarter, I suppose.

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The plot of Viva la Libertà is not really a transformative premise; humans have contemplated the boldness and the madness of those who are elected to lead civilizations since someone decided they wanted to ruin 10th grade for everyone by making Julius Caesar obligatory reading as part of the curriculum.  It’s an age-old topic. This film has a slight twist on the topic.

Enrico Oliveri, an Italian politician who is played by the most talented and fabulous Toni Servillo, has sort of hit a rough patch in his career. His political party isn’t doing really well, and because of internal turmoil and strong personalities butting heads, it is forecasted that this party will not be elected in the upcoming election. This is where a little research on the Italian political system might prove useful, because it is far more confusing and complicated than what most countries are used to. There are at least 9 major political parties in Italy and 26 minor parties, NOT including the regional parties which would just push the number into the hundreds.

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Sadly, Enrico is also going through what one can only suspect is a midlife crisis, and so he decides to suddenly disappear during the middle of a busy reelection campaign. Andrea Bottini, Enrico’s babysitter/advisor, searches desperately for him, but he cannot track the politician down. Why? Because Enrico has decided to camp out in Paris … with a former girlfriend? Who is married to a French-Asian film director? And has a child? And work on the set of a film by said couple with apparently no one in Europe recognizing who this politician is? Useless to the plot? Detracting from the story line? You bet it is.

Andrea, at wit’s end, comes up with a dangerous but ingenious plan. Conveniently, Enrico has an identical twin brother named Giovanni, a philosopher and writer, who is far more entertaining, charm, witty, and intelligent than his politician brother could ever hope to be.  Andrea convinces him to take the place of his brother and finish the campaign for the party, convincing everyone around Giovanni that he is actually Enrico. Inconveniently, however, it turns out that there’s a slight problem; Giovanni has spent some time in a the psych ward and has a undisclosed label of mental illness, taking prescription medication to keep himself balanced.

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Random dancing with the “Chancellor” who looks awfully suspicious of Angela Merkel.

Eventually, Enrico decides to get his shit together and return home to his post, and, you know, political position, relieving his brother of his duty, but audiences are left with an unclear ending; who is actually left in charge of the political party in Italy? The politician or the mad man? I argue, what’s really the difference anyway?

So, why would this film have any relevance to us today in 2015? Because the character of Giovanni is truly fascinating. He is the most compelling politician one could ever hope to meet, and it is absolutely heartbreaking that his brilliant actor, Toni Servillo, is placed alongside one of the worst actresses in the history of acting, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, his brother’s former girlfriend who decides to shack up with Enrico even though her husband is walking around the two like nothing is happening (C’mon, bro).

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Regardless, the Italians flock to Giovanni. They love him for his honesty and his transparency, especially for the fact that he acts much less formal than “he used to be” (of course, no one actually realizes that he is not his brother). Giovanni, who we can only expect is heavily medicated throughout the entirety of the film, is eccentric, impulsive, and all over the place, exactly how you’d expect a mentally ill person to act.

But even more importantly, the Italian citizenry thrives on the content that he speaks. Giovanni has a touch of the Donald Trump in that he says whatever comes to mind, but unlike Donald Trump, his rhetoric includes moving, philosophic, and witty responses to every question. Citizens hang on his every word, and his words are moving … but, even though the film viewer is drawn to Giovanni’s earnestness and the intelligence in his language, he doesn’t actually say anything at all.

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Take for example his speech where he quotes a poem by Bertolt Brecht by heart. My apologies for the lack of English subtitles in the video, but I’ve included the text below.

Is this an Italian example of what all the news agencies have been analyzing since Donald Trump opened his loud mouth and entered the race for the presidency? Is this what the plebeians of the world truly want out of a leader? Transparency, honesty, passion, insanity?

But more problematic is the underlying question: what if these are the only qualities people expect of their leader? Because Giovanni is all of these thing, but he quickly learns how to politician his way around a question by not actually answering the question. What happens when the manner in which something is said overtakes the meaning behind it?

vaAre there better films that would helps us ask these questions? You betchya. But this film was a nice catalyst for some serious thinking about the candidates and all the debates that I will make popcorn for and watch the shitshow.

What if people truly stop listening for the answer to their questions?

It appears Viva la Libertà answers that question for us through the use of Brecht: Expect no other answer but your own.

To the Wavering…

You say:
Our movement is in a bad shape.
The Darkness is increasing.  Our Powers are decreasing.
Now, after we have worked all these years,
we are in a worse condition than at the beginning.

But the enemy stands stronger than ever!
Their Power seem to have increased.  They have taken on an appearance of invincibility.
We have made mistakes, it is undeniable.
Our numbers are dwindling.
Our words are in disarray.  The enemy has taken our words and twisted
them into something unrecognizable.

Now, what is wrong about what we have said?
Some parts or everything?
On whom do we still count?  Are we left over,
thrown clear out of a living river?  Are we going to be left behind,
Understanding no one, and understood by no one?

Do we need Luck?

So you ask!
Expect no other answer except your own!

-Bertolt Brecht

Translation Copyright Poetic Mind June 2011

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