Viva la Libertà wants to say something about the state of the political left in contemporary Europe, but ultimately lacks the vision and conviction to honestly and meaningfully dissect the movement’s deep-seated structural malaise. Written and directed by Roberto Andò, the film follows Enrico Oliveri (Toni Servillo), the secretary of Italy’s left-wing opposition party. Aging and exhausted, he appears to be at the end of his career, offering little defense against mounting criticism from within his own party regarding his political impotence. This inability to perform is neatly symbolized by his clinical depression, which, of course, is further manifested in his diminishing sexual prowess. When Enrico decides to play hooky for a few weeks to visit his ex-girlfriend, Danielle (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), in France, his adviser, Bottini (Valerio Mastandrea), conceals his potentially disastrous hiatus by convincing the secretary’s twin brother, Giovanni, a kooky political philosopher, to fill in for Enrico in his absence.
In the birthplace of the paparazzi, in our age of the 24/7 news cycle, Enrico somehow manages to sneak across the border completely unnoticed to unwind with an old flame that he hasn’t spoken to in ages. A married mother and script supervisor, Danielle snuggles with Enrico and introduces him to a younger production assistant, with whom he has a guilt-free affair while working as a carpenter on a film set. After all, our overworked, ineffectual political leaders deserve to unwind with an occasional bit of cultural sex tourism. While no one recognizes Enrico on or off the set, it seems that no one in Italy (including Enrico’s wife) even knows of Giovanni’s existence, despite being the opposition leader’s only sibling. The story is preposterous even without the hackneyed plot device of the prince seamlessly replaced by his double, which is played completely straight by the filmmakers.
Whereas Enrico suffers from depression, Giovanni is on anti-psychotic drugs after a recent stint at a mental hospital. Such cheap psychological metaphors find further expression in the film’s altered discourse, as Enrico’s empty political platitudes are replaced by Giovanni’s equally vacuous philosophical maxims. The filmmakers pass off Giovanni’s sophistry and poetic mystification as a profound intervention in the political realm. This is unintentionally mirrored in the domestic sphere, where Danielle’s daughter is one of those obnoxiously precocious kids who speaks unvarnished truth to power, in this case the secretary. Between Giovanni’s ludic politicking and Enrico’s carefree erotic vacation, nothing in the plot ever truly feels at stake, either politically or emotionally.
Throughout the film, Bottini tries to keep “them” from supplanting Enrico/Giovanni as the secretary. The viewer is led to believe that the politician’s public detractors are sent by “them,” but is never told who “they” are. Nevertheless, it’s clear that Enrico’s party represents “us,” an amorphous political body meant to extend beyond the screen and merge with the viewers’ political reality. This makes the film feel like an extended political commercial, one that could work for any European center-left political party looking for a rebranding. This veneer of shallow political advertising is reinforced by the flat compositions, lifeless mise-en-scène, and bland orchestral soundtrack, all of which mirror the film’s equally banal dramatic content.
Andò’s uncertainty about the film’s purpose endows it with an oddly dull rhythm that never resolves itself into either a comedy or a drama. His halfhearted Pirandellian gestures toward the similarity between politics and cinema repeatedly fall flat. The film ultimately takes its own empty rhetoric far too seriously to rise to the level of political farce, in the mode of Wag the Dog or Being There, devolving instead to mere fatuity. The work needed either a (young) Roberto Benigni to transform it into a genuinely entertaining comedy of errors or a Francesco Rosi to endow it with meaningful political insight.