Dir: Giuseppe Ferrara. Italy. 2002. 127mins.

With its controversial reconstruction of the life and mysterious death of Italian banker Roberto Calvi, Giuseppa Ferrara's latest film was designed to create an even bigger stir than his earlier political outings. God's Bankers has done so on one level at least: at the end of its third week of release, a Italian judge ordered its withdrawal after an injunction presented by Flavio Carboni, a businessman whose role in the Calvi affair is shown in a decidedly unflattering light. The distributors immediately slapped
Last week before the ban
across posters and newspaper ads; but the ruse has failed to rouse audiences, taking to date a mere Euros 296,891 after four weeks. This is understandable, as Ferrara seems so excited by the controversial story that he has neglected to make a decent film out of it: instead of blending a mass of newspaper and court reports into a tight drama, he has created an undigested mass which does not even have technical merits. Aside from very specialised markets, the film's chances abroad must be slim.

Ferrara has made a name for himself with films about political conspiracy, taking on the kidnap and slaying of former Italian Primer Minister Aldo Moro (The Moro Case, 1986) and the assassination of a leading anti-Mafia judge (Giovanni Falcone, 1988). Both made for adequate, though visually unexciting, TV-style dramas. Here he turns his attentions to Calvi, found hanging under Blackfriars Bridge, London in June 1982, an apparent case of suicide, after the financial ruin of his Banco Ambrosiano, Italy's second-largest private bank. But Calvi was a member of the P2 masonic lodge, a powerful, unelected power centre; and also had close ties with the Vatican bank IOR, and with Italo-American banker and power-broker Michele Sindona, the Darth Vader of Italian finance. The whole affair turned into a sort of Disneyland for conspiracy theorists, who still go into ecstasies about the occult significance of Calvi's place of death, the bridge of the black friars. The official story was no less convoluted: a series of court cases - most of them still pending - generated reams of documents. But if it all seemed terribly confusing at the time, God's Bankers pulls off the difficult feat of making it even more confusing today.

With a good cast of Italian character actors led by Omero Antonutti as Calvi, the film could have been a contender - especially in the scenes of the banker's private life. Calvi is shown to be a weak man, a high-grade number-cruncher who was somehow catapulted, against his will, to the giddy (and slippery) heights of Italian finance. When not in his banker's suit, Calvi is mostly in his pyjamas and dressing gown, losing himself in the prosperous maternal embrace of wife (Pamela Villoresi), who, unique among the cast, plays it half for laughs, in Stefania Sandrelli mode.

It's the web of political and financial intrigue, however, that most interests Ferrara. And it's here that the film is at its weakest, unable to digest the succession of events and huge cast of characters, resorting instead to captions in a vain attempt to force-feed its audience (
11.06.82: Calvi hands himself over to Carboni's men
). The most bizarre of these on-screen messages comes in one of the Vatican scenes, when we suddenly read, right across the screen:
Out of respect, the Holy Father's face is not shown in the film
(though we do see the Holy Father, later, working out respectfully on an exercise bicycle). We also see some big players of the Italian political scene, including Guilio Andreotti and Bettino Craxi, played by lookalikes who appear to have stepped out of a popular Italian satirical TV show. Rutger Hauer commands authority as wily cardinal Marcinkus, but even he can only do so much with pidgin Anglo-Italian lines like
What the fuck stai dicendo'
. The corny orchestral suspense soundtrack and the lighting that illuminates the line where Calvi's facial make-up ends only make things worse.

Prod co: Sistina Cinematografica, Metropolis Film
It dist:
Columbia TriStar Italia
Enzo Gallo
Int'l sales:
Gruppo Minerva International
Armenia Balducci, Giuseppe Ferrara
Federico del Zoppo
Prod des:
Davide Bassan
Adriano Tagliavia
Pino Donaggio
Main cast:
Omero Antonutti, Pamela Villoresi, Giancarlo Giannini, Rutger
Hauer, Alessandro Gassman