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We Have A Pope (4 stars)

Light-hearted touches within surprisingly pessimistic vision of Catholic Church system

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We Have A Pope

(tbc) 104mins

Although it’s set in the world of heavyweight prize-fighters, it would be cruelly limiting to describe Martin Scorsese’s lacerating study of masculine self-loathing Raging Bull as a film about boxing. Ditto Italian writer-director Nanni Moretti’s new feature, We Have a Pope. Yes it unfolds in a carefully recreated contemporary Vatican City, but to label the film a gentle comedy about the Catholic Church seems to ignore the deeper questions it raises around personal feelings of inadequacy and society’s insistence on maintaining appearances.

Cardinal Melville (the great veteran French actor Michel Piccoli) has surprisingly been elected Pope by the College of Cardinals. Preparing to address the thousands of well-wishers in St Peter’s Square, he experiences a crisis of confidence, calling out, ‘I can’t do this,’ and retreating to his chambers. A panicked Vatican spokesman (Jerzy Stuhr) invites an atheist psychoanalyst Professor Brezzi (Moretti himself) to assuage Melville’s doubts. On the analyst’s recommendation, the pope is spirited outside the walls of the Holy See to visit another shrink, Brezzi’s estranged wife (Margherita Buy), who diagnoses ‘parental deficit’, yet on this excursion Melville manages to slip his minders and begins wandering Rome’s streets.

Notions of performance and role-playing abound: a Vatican guard impersonates the pontiff by occupying the latter’s’ quarters; the cardinals are amusingly organised by Brezzi into participating in a volleyball tournament; and Melville himself, a frustrated actor, encounters a theatrical troupe rehearsing Chekhov’s The Seagull. Visual contrasts are established between gilded interiors and exterior locations to examine the key themes of physical and mental imprisonment. An attractively shot, designed and costumed film, We Have a Pope, despite its light-hearted touches, presents a surprisingly pessimistic vision of an individual’s place within a system, although Moretti’s downbeat resolution – scored to Arvo Part’s powerful ‘Miserere’ – movingly conveys the dignity in a principled man’s refusal to conform.

Selected release from Fri 2 Dec.

We Have a Pope (Habemus Papam) Trailer

We Have a Pope

  • 4 stars
  • 2011
  • Italy/France
  • 102 min
  • PG
  • Directed by: Nanni Moretti
  • Written by: Nanni Moretti, Francesco Piccolo, Federica Pontremoli
  • Cast: Michel Piccoli, Nanni Moretti
  • UK release: 2 December 2011

Cardinal Melville (Piccoli) has been elected pope, but on the point of his first appearance to the faithful he panics and flees, so the Vatican calls in atheist psychoanalyst Brezzi (Moretti) to talk to the troubled pontiff. Attractively shot and full of amusing touches, Moretti's film is surprisingly moving and downbeat.

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