‘Viva la Liberta’ a comedy lacking bite 

click to enlarge Toni Servillo is good as an Italian politician – and his crazy twin brother – in the ultimately unsatisfying “Viva la Liberta.” - COURTESY LIA PASQUALINO
  • Toni Servillo is good as an Italian politician – and his crazy twin brother – in the ultimately unsatisfying “Viva la Liberta.”
In “Viva la Liberta,” a madman impersonates a prominent politician and wows the voters, who mistake his cracked, cryptic statements for truth. New from Italy, the film is an engagingly performed but underwhelming satire that isn’t fresh or stirring.

Writer-director Roberto Ando (adapting his novel) has delivered a deliberately light but ineffectively straight-laced comedy that suggests “Dave” and “Being There,” sprinkled with Italian seasoning. The device of the doppelganger provides an occasional thrill. Toni Servillo stars in dual roles.

Enrico Oliveri (Servillo), a left-leaning opposition-party leader with dismal poll rankings, pulls a vanishing act in an early scene. He leaves Rome, travels to France, and hides out at the home of a now-married former girlfriend (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), who lives with her filmmaker husband (Eric Trung Nguyen) and young daughter (Stella Kent). There, he reconnects with humanity.

Enrico’s chief aide (the excellent Valerio Mastandrea) conceals Enrico’s absence by convincing Enrico’s identical-twin brother (also Servillo) – a cheery professor who calls himself Giovanni Ernani – to pose as Enrico. The glitch: Giovanni, who is certifiably insane, has just been released from a psychiatric hospital.

Impersonating his brother, Giovanni impresses the public, who deem his nutty, enigmatic responses to hard questions profound. At one point, he recites a haiku poem. At another, he dances a tango.

Can Giovanni eclipse Enrico in the halls of power? Is insanity conducive to political success?

Servillo, whose credits include the Andreotti-themed “Il Divo” and last year’s “The Great Beauty,” has fun with the dual roles. He gives each brother a demeanor so distinctive – Giovanni, for example, has a smile just a bit too serene for comfort – that viewers don’t need to rely on hair color to tell the men apart.

But a story of this sort needs to be a vivid romp or a witty farce or a cynical satire about the state of politics in Italy. Instead, its hardly novel premise unfolds flatly, without surprises. Sorvillo, good as he is, gets little chance to explore the deep interiors of the brothers, or their duality dynamics, or the politician psyche.

As tales of doubles go, the film lacks the psychological intensity and intrigue of fare by Alfred Hitchcock, David Cronenberg or Krzysztof Kieslowski. As a satire, it pales next to David Mamet’s stories of candidate damage-control maneuvers and citizen gullibility.

Additional problems involve credibility. How could Enrico, whose face is plastered all over the news, walk around France, unrecognized?

In all, this film fares so-so. Sometimes, it’s a mildly amusing diversion; sometimes, it’s cold spaghetti.


Viva la Liberta

two and a half stars

Starring Toni Servillo, Valerio Mastandrea, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Eric Trung Nguyen

Written and directed by Roberto Ando

Not rated

Running time 1 hour, 34 minutes

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Anita Katz

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