In my anal attempt to see all of the Oscar-nominated films, I turn to an otherwise obscure Italian film that picked up a nod for Best Makeup. Il Divo, written and directed by Paolo Sorrentino, is a fast-paced, witty look at the labyrnthine nature of Italian politics. The problem is, not being Italian, I had no idea what was going on.
The title character is Giulio Andreotti, who has been a fixture on the Italian political scene for half a century. I think his closest American comparison may be Richard Nixon, as both were seen as shady, manipulative men. Andreotti, in addition to being known as "Il Divo," was also called "The Hunchback," "The Black Pope," "Moloch," and "Beelzebub." Yeah, I think Nixon is the closest comparison.
Though Andreotti's career was long (he was prime minister of Italy seven different times), Sorrentino chooses a small window of time running up to when Andreotti was put on trial for conspiracy and murder (a journalist was murdered). He is haunted by his unwillingness to negotiate with the Red Brigade after the kidnapping and subsequent murder of ex-P.M. Aldo Moro some fifteen years earlier, but he betrays little emotion. In fact, the man is something of a sphinx. I imagine that every Italian immediately understood immediately the performance of Toni Servillo as Andreotti, but to the uninformed it's very creepy. Andreotti, looking something like a gargoyle (here's where the makeup comes in) apparently had some kind of back problem--otherwise why would he never turn his head on a swivel? It would be interesting to know how he got elected to anything in the first place, as he barely registers any emotion upon meeting other people. In the U.S., where we are used to glad-handing politicians who exhibit charm in the place of substance, this is close to impossible to understand.
Sorrentino, perhaps realizing he's wading into confusing waters, does his best to help. The soundtrack is full of pop songs, and when each knew character is introduced we get a graphic telling us who they are, what their title is, and usually a nickname. But I quickly forgot who was who, except for an associate of Andreotti's who looked a great deal like Larry David.
If you have an intimate knowledge of Italian politics, you will like Il Divo much more than I did.