The story of how Roberto Calvi, president of Banco Ambrosiano, came to be found swinging from London’s Blackfriars Bridge in 1982 is recounted with chilling class in “God’s Bankers,” directed by Giuseppe Ferrara, a specialist in Italian political thrillers (“The Moro Case,” “Giovanni Falcone”). Pic’s only problem is that the case is so unbelievably complex that viewers with no background will be lost from scene one. Italian auds look like they will be the main beneficiaries of this passionate rehashing of an unsolved murder with hair-raising implications about who is really running their country.
The list of villains is numerous, and most of them are still out there. Power-mad politicos and the Mafia are small fry here, paid off and commanded by far more sinister forces. These include the Italian secret service, which tends to operate on its own; Vatican bank IOR, accused of strong-arming Ambrosiano to spend some 1 trillion lire (then roughly $800 million) on financing the Pope’s crusade in favor of Solidarity and against the Polish Communists; Opus Dei, a hyper-reactionary business wing of the Catholic church; and the International Lodge of Masons, depicted in the film as the apex of evil and quite probably behind Calvi’s murder.
“Bankers” isn’t the kind of film that takes audiences by the hand and gently leads them through all the various parties’ web of interests. Ferrara’s method is to plunge right into the thick of things, relying on a fine cast to generate human interest and a well-researched script (co-written with Armenia Balducci) to provide true-crime thrills. Above-average tech work creates a tense genre atmosphere.
When Ambrosiano shows up with an unaccountable hole of said 1 trillion lire, Calvi (Omero Antonutti) is chosen as a scapegoat. As the judges who throw him in prison figure it, he’s filtered the money through five or six banks around the world to hide its ultimate destination. To get out of jail and hold onto his position at the bank, Calvi juggles a field of politicos and middlemen, sinister cardinals and Masons, with the help of his loving wife (Pamela Villoresi, in a full-bodied perf) and wily daughter.
Though hardly qualifying for sympathy, Calvi is made human and vulnerable in Antonutti’s restrained but never sentimental playing. Rutger Hauer’s perf of wide-eyed hypocrisy sets an indelible cinematic taint on Paul Marcinkus, unscrupulous head of the Vatican bank, while Giancarlo Giannini and Alessandro Gassman convincingly cameo as tricky wheeler-dealers.
Pic runs a pious disclaimer at the beginning about not showing Pope John Paul II’s face out of respect. (He appears back to camera in several scenes.) However, film certainly suggests he has a lot to account for — supporting Marcinkus, at the very least.
Title could more appropriately have been “The Pope’s Bankers,” given that the film presents not the faintest evidence that anyone believes in God in this nasty tale of power, money and murder. Legal investigations into the case are still pending.