Winner of the Jury Prize at last year's Cannes Film Festival, Il Divo, the story of the legendarily shady Italian prime minister Giulio Andreotti, is a frenetic, sardonic M-80 of a movie that assumes a near-encyclopedic knowledge of its subject by its audience. Even accounting for a lengthy pre-title text info-dump, it quickly becomes baffling for anyone without a firm grip on recent Italian history. But, man alive, does it ever move.

Beginning in the late 1970s with a gaggle of corpses, writer-director Paolo Sorrentino's film delves at warp speed into the rise and fall of Andreotti, the little-loved (sample nicknames: Beelzebub, the Black Pope) yet seemingly Teflon public figure who, despite rumored ties to the Mafia and a history of political enemies dead before their time, is currently still serving as a senator for life at age 90. (The film at one point links him to some 236 deaths, a figure that, judging from what we see on the screen, may actually be a little light.)

Sorrentino's rock-'em sock-'em style, which cribs freely from Scorsese and De Palma, is certainly engaging, which makes it easy to coast for minutes at a time on pure bombastic sensation before realizing that you haven't the foggiest idea about who is having a meeting with whom or if the guy with the mustache lurking in the background is important somehow. (SPOILER: He is, I think.) Baffling and maddening as the film frequently is, however, it does boast a whopper of a central performance by Toni Servillo, who suggests limitless depths while scarcely moving a facial muscle. Combining clammy skin, busy hands, and a posture reminiscent of Snoopy in his vulture phase, he (re-)creates a fascinating monster: a morose, near joyless void of a man who draws his lifeblood from the auras of those in his proximity. Given some CliffsNotes, the surrounding film might even be worthy of him.