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Cannes '08: In praise of Toni Servillo, star of 'Il Divo,' 'Gomorra'

May 25, 2008 |  8:25 am

Toni Servillo at the Cannes photocall for 'Il Divo'

If there is a breakout actor in the films selected for the 61st edition of Festival de Cannes his name is Toni Servillo. The veteran Italian actor stars in not one but two of the most critically praised films in competition: "Il Divo" and "Gomorra."

In "Il Divo," which thanks to director Paolo Sorrentino must have the most stylistic gestalt of any film in competition, Servillo plays Giulio Andreotti, a fixture in Italian government since 1947 who was embroiled in corruption investigations in the 1990s. Servillo plays Andreotti as a physically small but politically unstoppable Machiavelli in a large pair of glasses, exaggerated ears (pinned or prosthetic) and constricted shoulders. It's a physicality that perfectly suits the many nicknames Andreotti goes by -- the Hunchback, the Black Pope, the Man of Darkness and the Fox. 

As counterpoint to his depiction of Andreotti is Servillo's portrayal of Comorra crime boss Franco in "Gomorra," one of five main characters depicted in Matteo Garrone's violent but fabulous expose on the Neapolitan crime clique. As Franco, Servillo plays a brazen and cocksure crime leader in white linen who is physically robust and prone to muscular and threatening gestures.

While the strength of the two Italian films in competition may be more "luck of the draw" than any sign of an Italian film renaissance, there is no question that Toni Servillo's commanding performances are not a fluke. Here are other reviews of Servillo's recent work:

"Il Divo" :

Jay Weissberg, Variety
Not merely chronicling the career of seven-time Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti but also zooming in on the enigmatic politico's character, pic features an astonishing degree of craftsmanship and a towering performance by Toni Servillo.

Mary Corliss,
As incarnated by Tony Servillo ... Andreotti has the stiff posture of Richard Nixon, but a more imperial menace.

Charles Ealy, Austin 360 Movie Blog
In playing Andreotti, Servillo is reminiscent of Peter Sellers. He’s pitch-perfect in imitation, but also brings an aura of heft.

Wire report, AFP
Shot in Italy's luxury palaces of power, fast-paced "Il Divo" portrays Andreotti as a sometimes comic, sometimes sinister modern-day Machiavelli.

"Gomorrah" :

Wendy Ide, Times Online
The excellent Tony Servillo stars, and, since he also takes the lead in Paolo Sorrentino’s film Il Divo in the festival, looks like a contender for a prize.

Jason Solomons,
...the linen-clad fixer (Toni Servillo) organising disposal of toxic waste in a huge quarry, a metaphor for the poisons seeping deep into the earth, the culture.

Lee Marshall, Screen Daily

... Franco (Servillo) is a smooth-talking suited businessman but his business is the illegal 'processing' of toxic waste, an activity that becomes increasingly repellent to his principled young assistant Roberto (Paternoster).

-- Sheigh Crabtree

Photo: Toni Servillo at the Cannes photocall for "Il Divo." WireImage