Toni Servillo plays twin brothers — a politician and a philosopher — in the affecting “Viva la Liberta,” a comic drama from Italy. Servillo charms in his dual turn, then takes it up a notch when one brother shows off his childhood knack for impersonating his look-alike. He spars with reporters and recites Bertolt Brecht at rallies.
Director Roberto Ando adapts his debut novel (the title translates as “The Vacant Throne”) for a pointed satire that turns into a character study. A cherished snapshot taken at the Cannes Film Festival will reveal why the brothers have not seen each other for 25 years.
Enrico Olivieri (Servillo) is the depressive head of Italy’s dispirited opposition party. Telling no one, he flees to Paris for solace with Danielle (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), an old lover now married to acclaimed auteur Mung (Eric Trung Nguye). A script supervisor, she gets him a gig as a props assistant on the set.
Enrico’s disappearance coincides with his brother’s discharge from a mental hospital. Under the pseudonym Giovanni Ernani (Servillo), he has penned books like “The Illusion of Living.” Enrico’s staff and wife decide he will do as a secret stand-in, assuming candidate Enrico will reappear before the ballot.
The brothers start leading new lives. Traits, hurts and virtues surface when they break from old ways. They merge for an ambiguous outcome, as cued by a winking last shot.
“Viva la Liberta” recalls “Being There.” In that 1979 political parable a simpleton named Chance (Peter Sellers) emerges from a garden behind a townhouse in Washington, D.C. The political elite takes him for a prophet of presidential caliber. Then there’s the comedy “Dave” from 1993 where Kevin Kline is recruited by the Oval Office to impersonate the comatose president.
Ando and Servillo are less cynical and silly than those two American films. Instead we get a balanced ticket of critique and self-discovery.
Distrib Films US presents a film directed by Roberto Ando and written by Ando and Angelo Pasquini. In Italian, French and German with English subtitles. Running time: 94 minutes. No MPAA rating. Opens Friday at the Gene Siskel Film Center.