Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Movie Review: We Have a Pope

We Have a Pope
Directed by: Nanni Moretti.
Written by: Nanni Moretti and Francesco Piccolo and Federica Pontremoli.
Starring: Michel Piccoli (Il papa), Nanni Moretti (Lo psicoanalista), Jerzy Stuhr (Il portavoce), Renato Scarpa (Cardinal Gregori), Franco Graziosi (Cardinal Bollati), Camillo Milli (Cardinal Pescardona), Roberto Nobile (Cardinal Cevasco), Ulrich von Dobsch├╝tz (Cardinal Brummer), Gianluca Gobbi (Guardia svizzera),  Margherita Buy (La psicoanalista).

Nanni Morretti’s We Have a Pope asks an interesting question – what if the Cardinal who is elected Pope doesn’t want the job? This isn’t like running for a normal political office where you have to really run for the job. You go into conclave with all the other Cardinals, and anyone could come out the winner. Yes, there are people who want the job, and there are favorites – hell you can gamble on who’s going to win. But then again – in elections of this sort don’t always win (although, the current Pope went into Conclave as a 3-1 favorite). What is clear about the election in We Have a Pope is the man who eventually wins was no one’s first choice – when the first rounds of votes are read, his name never comes up. And then, finally, they choose.

The winner is Melville, played by legendary actor Michel Piccoli, who is now 86 years old. Like the current Pope, he will be seen as a transition Pope – electing an old Pope who you know won’t be around too long, before they elect a real reformer. Melville is a safe, uncontroversial choice – and everything seems to be going according to plan – until he is supposed to go out onto the balcony and address the faithful – and he just cannot do it. The Cardinals encourage him to take some time and pray on it. But this really does put the Vatican in a difficult situation. Until the new Pope is officially announced, none of the Cardinals are allowed to leave. And Melville doesn’t seem like he’s going to be ready any time soon. So, while the world waits to find out who the new Pope is, the Vatican brings in a psychiatrist (Moretti) himself to try and figure out what’s wrong with him. That quickly fails – but now that Moretti knows the identity of the new Pope, he cannot leave either. The Vatican decides to try another shrink – this time outside the Vatican, and sneak Melville out without anyone noticing. But Melville is craftier then they think he is – and he slips his security detail, and ends up wandering the streets of Rome, interacting with people as a normal, old man – and sometimes catching news reports about how worried Catholics the world over are becoming with no one knowing what is going on with the Pope. And, of course, the Vatican searches valiantly to find him.

The movie has two main streams – one inside the Vatican and one outside. The one inside is more light hearted, and at times hilarious. Moretti confesses early in his stay that he is not a `believer’ and that his wife has left him because he is `the best` therapist and she, another therapist, could deal with that. He soon starts debating the Cardinals – saying the Bible highlights all of the problems the current Pope is going through, arguing about cards, and eventually organizing, I kid you not, a volleyball tournament – splitting up the Cardinals by geographical region, and having them duke it out on the volleyball court (poor Oceania only has three team members, but South America is the story of the tournament).

While the story inside the Vatican is more slapstick funny, the one outside, with Melville going interacting with the people on the streets – and rediscovering his long lost love of acting – which is how he wanted to spend his life, but wasn’t good enough to pursue. He does hook up with a acting troupe, doing Chekov`s The Seagull, and decides he simply wants to disappear. As played by Picolli, Melville is a kind, pious man – intelligent and introspective. He wants to lead a quiet life in his final years – and knows that becoming Pope would be the end of that. Like the other Cardinals, whose thoughts we hear at the beginning of Conclave -with all of them silently praying to God that they not be picked – he doesn’t want the job. And when it’s thrust upon him, he questions the will of God.

When people heard that Nanni Moretti was making a film about the Pope, I think they expected more political and controversial than We Have a Pope ends up being. After all, this is the same director whose last film, The Caiman (barely released in North America, if at all, but which I saw at TIFF back in 2006), was a pointed assault on Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian media magnate turned President. And yet, a couple of things should be noted, the first being that while The Caiman is an assault on Berlusconi, and lays out all of his sins, it is also an attack on the left – which Morretti is a part of – for not doing more to stop him – for being too scared to act. That film was actually deeply cynical about the whole damn thing. The second is that We Have a Pope is, in subtle ways, the attack some were expecting. Listen to the Picolli practicing his speech while sitting on the bus, admitting that sometimes "we have been slow to acknowledge our mistakes", which I believe is in reference to the clergy molestation scandal, that many complained Moretti didn’t bring up at all. And then there is the final scene – which I have to say genuinely surprised me – in which Melville explains himself. This is a still a pointed political statement on the Catholic Church –but a gentle, subtle one, that uses humor to make its points.

We Have a Pope is a highly enjoyable movie – funny, yet intelligent. You start off enjoying the film, and then it sneaks up on you and actually makes you think. Moretti doesn’t beat you over the head with his point – but makes it just the same.

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