The only thing possibly better than seeing one Toni Servillo (the star of Paolo Sorrentino's recent Oscar winner The Great Beauty) is being treated to a film with two of them. And in the rich tradition of mistaken identity comedies stretching back to Chaplin's Great Dictator, that's exactly what we get in Viva La LibertÓ. Servillo stars as Enrico Oliveri, the besieged leader of the Italian opposition who is down in the polls and losing all respect from inside the party. Under mounting pressure he secretly flees to France to recuperate at the home of a former lover and (unfortunately for him) her husband and daughter. Meanwhile in Rome, Enrico's aide Andrea (Valerio Mastandrea) is frantically trying to find the Senator when he stumbles across his twin brother Giovanni (also Servillo), a lively beaming philosopher and the very definition of 'away with the fairies'. Out of desperation, and with a somewhat cavalier attitude to national politics, he enlists his help in replacing his absent brother. What seems like a dreadful idea becomes a roaring success, with Giovanni able to freely speak his mind and philosophise with an honesty and heart the public instantly respect. As he climbs in the polls, Enrico remains isolated in Paris taking on manual work and quietly reassessing his life.
Over a pleasantly paced 90-odd minutes, the lighthearted story neatly unfolds and is never less than entertaining. Occasionally dipping into the farcical, overall it's more of a gently playful drama that studies Enrico and Giovanni on a broadly personal level. Although set in the notoriously shady world of Italian politics this is far from a hardline assassination of the state of the nation and more of a subtle dig at their - and indeed all - failing democratic systems. The triumph of Giovanni's philosophical passion and sense of beauty is a heartening thing to behold - and possibly the most outlandish thing in Viva La LibertÓ. Seeing the whimsical madman stand up and dare to have an opinion in the way politicians are terrified of is the film's real charm.
It's not quite as successful at getting under the skin of the brothers, feeling perhaps a little too engineered, relying on the wistful melancholy of Servillo's Enrico to hint at greater depth. Nevertheless the surface jaunt through their lives is handled with an astute sharp focus and buoyancy every bit as enticing and passingly provocative as you'd hope. Ultimately though this is a film about Tony Servillo (both of them) and two remarkably diverse performances which capture the personalities of the wildly different men in the minutiae of mannerism and speech. Even with their backs turned you're able to get enough sense of their character to tell them apart. He is absolutely sensational, setting the film's tone and leading it with a magnetic two-faced presence. To extend the chance of seeing him go to work with such spirit and verve, Viva La LibertÓ deserves to land a wider release.