Habemus Papam (We Have a Pope)
Autumn 2012 Features series
December 16, 2012 at 4:00pm
December 16, 2012 at 7:00pm
Directed by Nanni Moretti
Screenplay by Nanni Moretti, Francesco Piccolo and Federica Pontremoli
Starring Michel Piccoli, Nanni Moretti and Jerzy Stuhr
Rated NR ·
Italian, German, Latin, English, Spanish, Polish and French with subtitles with English subtitles
Habemus Papam (We Have a Pope)
“Never one to shy away from controversy, Italian film-maker Nanni Moretti has followed The Caiman, his assault on Silvio Berlusconi, with a nervously anticipated examination of the holiest of holy cows, the papacy. Already released in Italy, Habemus Papam has provoked only the mildest tut-tutting from the Vatican, and it’s not hard to see why: Moretti’s conception of the Holy Father is a man weighed down by the immensity of his burden, who must reconcile human fears with spiritual responsibilities, and who is drawn equally to the life of the world and the life of the mind. To those, and to volleyball matches between fully-robed cardinals in the papal palace quadrangle.
“Moretti’s premise is enticing, almost brilliant. One pope dies, and the conclave to elect his successor settles on Cardinal Melville, played with perfect mournful sensitivity by 85-year-old Michel Piccoli. (Could the character name be a sly reference to the French director of Le Doulos, in which Piccoli appeared almost half a century ago?) Moretti pulls off a tremendous opening set-piece, in which the assembled cardinals cast their votes for one of their number, each and every one praying they don’t get the nod, aware of the crushing effect that the pontificate would have on their lives.
“It’s at the very moment when the cry of “habemus papam” – “we have a pope” – goes up that Melville’s self-doubt surges out of control; in a great howl of fear, he refuses to step out onto the balcony, and throws the papal selection process into limbo. The Vatican’s officials – portrayed affectionately enough as nervous bumblers – call in a psychoanalyst (played by Moretti himself) to try and talk Melville round. Here Moretti delivers another brilliantly witty scene, in which his attempts to delve into Melville’s psyche are hampered by doctrinal interventions from the earwigging cardinals.
“It’s at this point, though, that Moretti makes a structural decision that has far-reaching consequences for his film. We are all set for a King’s-Speech style encounter between a great man and his teacher, whose relationship will define the other and provide both with an emotional journey. But Moretti has his pope suddenly scoot off into the big city, there to wander through the quotidian realities in a long dark night of the soul, in which he must wrestle with his doubts alone. Analyst Moretti is left behind in the Vatican, there to play cards with the cardinals and arrange the aforementioned volleyball tournament. With the two men apart, the film starts to meander, hopping between scenes with no particular connection, and thereby losing much of its narrative focus.
“That’s not to say much of what remains isn’t valuable and funny. Moretti is a loose and entertaining presence as he tries to keep order in the cloisters, and Piccoli is always thoughtful and humane as his troubled soul pushes him from bakery to theatre to hotel. There’s something of Christ among the people about him, especially in one particularly moving scene when he rehearses his doubts aloud on a crowded bus.
“Moretti deserves respect for not simply taking a hatchet to the papal office; it’s an easy target in the aftermath of the abuse scandals and most directors would be unable to resist. Habemus Papam wants to emphasise the human consequences of a great religious office, and in that it succeeds.” Review from Cannes, Andrew Pulver, The Guardian