CANNES, France (Reuters) - The great survivor of Italian politics, Giulio Andreotti, is shown as a cold, solitary but often comic figure at the heart of a corrupt system in a satirical new film by Italian director Paolo Sorrentino.
"Il Divo" (The Star), being shown at the Cannes film festival, shows Andreotti at the end of his long career as accusations begin to mount that an intricate system of patronage he had built to keep power was linked ultimately to the mafia.
Coming after Matteo Garrone's "Gomorra" (Gomorrah), about the Naples Camorra, it is the second film at the festival to examine the role of organized crime in Italy.
But it uses humor and symbolism rather than the gritty realism of Garrone's film to underline the grotesque perversion of a system in which, as Andreotti explains, "evil is necessary so that good can exist."
"Italy is different from other countries because of the occult side of power," Sorrentino told a news conference after the film's screening. "Power is not as transparent as in other countries and that's very specific to Italy," he said.
Andreotti, part of the Italian political establishment since 1947, was a seemingly permanent fixture as prime minister, foreign minister, interior minister or eminence grise as one shaky government coalition succeeded another.
Dry, inscrutable and apparently indestructible, he was once described by former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher as having "a positive aversion to principle."
Now a senator for life, he was tried but acquitted on charges of mafia associations after the so-called "Clean Hands" corruption investigations of the 1990s brought down much of the established political order in Italy.
The man himself gave a cool reaction to the film.
"I would have happily lived without it," Andreotti said after seeing an advance screening in Italy.
"It highlights some of my shortcomings, but also others that I don't have."
Opening with an injunction, apparently from Andreotti's mother, that "If you can't write anything nice about a person, don't write anything at all," the film lays into him with gusto but presents an often strangely likeable villain.
Veteran Italian actor Toni Servillo, who also appears in "Gomorra," plays Andreotti as a Machiavellian personality with an ironical sense of humor and a pessimistic view of human nature, frequently seen at prayer.
"He's a very enigmatic person. He is impossible to read and he's always making jokes. It's as though he was always sending out coded messages," Servillo said.
The film mixes comic episodes with quick-fire sketches of the tangled world of Italian politics and the links between Andreotti's Christian Democratic party and the Sicilian mafia.
It shows Andreotti receiving a symbolic kiss on the cheek from a mafia boss and recounts a story featuring cynical priests, a prancing budget minister, unshaven hitmen and brutish political operators interested only in power.
Andreotti looks on with detached amusement, shrugging off accusations of mafia involvement with the comment that he has been accused of everything that has gone wrong in Italy apart from the Punic wars.
But the film also shows him increasingly alone as former allies desert him, switching off the lights in his gloomy apartment and spending much of the time in the shadows as troubles encircle him.
Editing by David Fogarty