The global political agenda each year is studded with summits of world leaders. Some are more interesting than others, depending on which issues are topical at the time.
The meetings of central bankers and finance ministers from major economies would not be high on a list of those attracting the public’s attention, let alone create entertainment.
But that ignores the ingenuity of the Italian film industry, which is almost unique in its ability to make politics — and often religion — a compelling topic for the big and small screens.
Naturally, Catholicism comes in for close study. The Young Pope, recommended here earlier this year, is an example of how the Italians’ craft can also go global with the backing of American TV and Internet-based networks such as Netflix, HBO and Amazon.
Another example is featured in the second annual Cinema Italiano Festival, which has been making the rounds since June, starting in Christchurch.
In Auckland, the festival ran at just one cinema for a fortnight in September. Wellington’s turn comes in November.
This limited exposure, which also includes much-reduced seasons in Nelson, Tauranga and Hawke’s Bay, means some 18 features — plus two classics, Roman Holiday and Rocco and His Brothers — will go largely unseen.
This compares with the former Italian festival, which ran for 19 years until 2015. During that time it was second only to the NZ International Film Festival as the premiere showcase here for world cinema.
This year, politics and religion come together in Roberto Ando’s The Confessions (Le confessioni), as a monk, Salus (Toni Servillo), is invited to a world finance ministers’ conference at a German seaside spa, Heiligendamm, site of an actual G8 summit in 2007.
The meeting also serves as a gathering of the International Monetary Fund and is charged with overseeing the health of the global financial system.
Salus has been invited by the IMF chief, played by France’s Daniel Auteil, who is troubled by decisions of how and whether the world’s richest nations should deal with the high debts of the poorest countries.
Salus is a mathematician as well as a confessor and his interpretation of a mysterious formula is at the centre of a murky plot that could trigger a global financial crisis.
The other key trigger point is the Confession itself, as it is followed by the chairman’s sudden and unexplained death.
This puts the summit in turmoil as the other participants, who include a celebrity writer (Connie Nielsen) and a Bono-like musician (Johan Heldenberg), grapple with the potential consequences of the news leaking out.
Salus is put under pressure to break the Confession vow and reveal what he knows of the secret financial scheme.
If this is not enough, the screenplay, co-written by Ando and Angelo Pasquini, reveals contrasting behind-the-scenes behaviour among those at the highest level of world affairs.
Meanwhile, Servillo confirms his role as the conscience of philosophical cinema, most recently depicted in The Great Beauty (2013).
Rating: Mature audiences. 108 minutes.