WE HAVE A POPE
The newly elected Pope (Michel Piccoli) suffers a panic attack just as he is due to appear on St Peter's balcony to bless the faithful, who have been patiently awaiting the conclave's decision. His advisors, unable to convince him he is the right man for the job, seek help from a renowned psychoanalyst (Nanni Moretti). But his fear of the responsibility suddenly thrust upon him is one that he must face on his own.
Review by Louise Keller:
Uncertainty is the essence of this unusual tale that is a curious melee of serious drama tinged with some unexpected comical elements. Although the story focuses on the rituals at the Vatican and the newly elected Pope, faith is surprisingly not a key ingredient. In fact, faith has little to do with the story that Nanni Moretti and his co-screenwriters Francesco Piccolo and Federica Pontremoli have concocted. Freedom and confinement are juxtaposed as the Pope and his atheist psychotherapist effectively trade places with the new Pope (Piccoli) stealing some time for himself in the world at large, as he tries to remember forgotten things about his life. It's an unusual film that occasionally plays a little dull. It is perhaps too clever for its own good and requires patience and concentration to squeeze the most out of the experience. It is on an intellectual level that it works best.
There is a sense of tradition and ceremony as the procession of cardinals clad in ruby red robes trimmed with white lace, make their way to the conclave where the newly elected pope will be named. Thousands of faithful believers stand patiently in St Peter's Square, waiting for the white smoke signal to herald the appointment of the new head of the Catholic Church. Our curiosity is aroused from the very beginning when individual candidates are heard praying quietly to themselves, asking that they not be selected. When Melville's name is announced, instead of facing the crowd and bestowing a blessing, he suffers a panic attack and is whisked away from the rest of the cardinals.
The highly public meeting between the psychoanalyst (Moretti) and the new Pope is almost farcical, surrounded by dozens of cardinals, who look on in seeming disbelief. Although nothing is achieved, the psychoanalyst is unable to leave the Vatican until the issue is resolved. There are some incongruous sequences as volleyball games are organised for the cardinals, while the Pope escapes his minders' clutches and keeps company with a group of actors putting on a performance of Chekhov's The Seagull. (He says he's an actor, tired of touring, opening nights and performances)
I was firmly kept at arms length throughout this film, getting more out of it in hindsight, as I reflected its unusual themes and subtle subtext. Piccoli's central performance is a standout however as he epitomizes the man of faith lost in the moment as he searches for answers to the riddle of his life. Moretti anchors the film with a solid presence.
First Published in the Sun-Herald
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
An intriguing concept about a reluctant Pope (Michel Piccoli) is given a satirical twist as filmmaker Nanni Moretti holds up psychiatrists to gentle ridicule - and casts himself as the target. In its circuitous way, the screenplay covers the fertile ground of familiar psychoanalytical touchstones, from childhood problems to depression and insecurity.
The film begins slowly, with the Cardinals taking their time to elect the new Pope. It's after his panic attack that the Pope is confronted by Moretti's psychotherapist in one of the film's more amusing scenes. The two men face each other but not in the privacy of the consulting room or even the Pope's private chambers - but in front of the assembled Cardinals from around the world. Some questions are out of bounds, notably anything about sex, or dreams or even about childhood... Moretti is showing the poverty of tools in the hands of the profession, while teasing the Church about its outmoded behaviour.
Without the official public announcement of his identity, the Catholic Church and its faithful are in a kind of limbo - much like the Pope himself, who has another session with a female psychoanalyst - who happens to be the separated wife of the man who is trying to help the Pontiff. Much is made of the fact that she left her husband because everyone - including herself - proclaimed him to be the best in the business.
All of this would work better if there was more meat on the story and we invested in the outcome. While we warm to Piccoli's reluctant Pope, we are never given reason to care whether he gets the courage to take the job. There are also some confusing asides to do with a theatre production of Chekhov's The Seagull and one of its actors, with the Pope (still incognito) turning up at rehearsals, offering to help, thanks to his sister's frequent Chekhovian acting gigs.
If as quoted, Moretti wanted to combine the grotesque with the real, he succeeded - albeit not entirely to the benefit of the film.
Performances are excellent, notably Piccoli and Jerzy Stuhr as the hard pressed Papal minder.
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WE HAVE A POPE (M)
CAST: Michel Piccoli, Jerzy Stuhr, Nanni Moretti, Margherita Buy Renato Scarpa, Franco Graziosi, Camillo Milli, Robert Nobile, Ulrich von Dobschutz,
PRODUCER: Jean Labadie, Nanni Moretti, Domenico Procacci
DIRECTOR: Nanni Moretti
SCRIPT: Nanni Moretti, Francesco Piccolo,
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Alessandro Pesci
EDITOR: Esmaralda Calabria
MUSIC: Franco Piersanti
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Paola Bizzarri
RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Transmission
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 1, 2011