At the Vatican, following the demise of the Pope, the conclave to elect his successor settles on Cardinal Melville. But the faithful gathered in St Peter's Square wait in vain for the new Pope to step out on the balcony. What is going on? Behind the thick walls of the Vatican panic has set in. After uttering a terrible howl of fear, the Cardinal refuses the office. The officials do everything to try to reason with Melville, including a psychoanalyst, appointed by the Vatican... Do we really have a Pope?Written by
In one of my all-time favorite romantic comedies, Billy Wilder's enchanting Roman Holiday, a princess, with an aversion to her royal responsibilities and its added pressure of pomp and circumstance that comes with it, flees her guardians to escape to a simpler commoner's life in Rome. Complications ( and love ) ensue. In Nanni Moretti's engaging We Have a Pope, the job description might have changed slightly, but the same intensity and stress of duty and honor remains. And while the main character is never in search of love, complications begin to pile up.
The pope has died and a new successor must be elected. After multiple voting, the conclave of cardinals decide that Cardinal Melville would be the best candidate to fill that void. The crowds form outside the Vatican awaiting their decision, all eyes focused on that central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica and its new pontiff. Yet inside, it is another story entirely as the newly anointed and appointed leader refuses to take on that role. A psychotherapist is brought in to convince Cardinal Melville that this big white whale of a job belongs to him. So what does the cardinal do? He escapes, seeking la dolce vita that others have.
Now Moretti's basic idea is an intriguing one, that one man who so many look to for spiritual guidance is himself in search of that elusive goal and is in the midst of his own personal crisis of faith. Morretti serves his story well as a director, setting up his characters, all of whom are held captive in their grandiose surroundings and involving the movie audience with the regal pageantry and splendor.
But as screenwriter, his script loses its focus with some subplots and actions that never quite gel. Just as his character becomes lost, so does his film. Scenes involving his interactions and experiences with the common folk fall flat and don't seem to resolve the complex issue or provide any insight for this troubled soul's introspection. As the film progresses, the remaining cardinals become more one-dimensional and their behavior, while slightly amusing, become easy folly as they play volleyball in their fancy silk trappings, merely decoration rather than real people. ( Only Renato Scarpi as Cardinal Gregori provides any depth to his character. ) Plus, the role of the psychologist ( also played by Moretti ) becomes a mere afterthought, never really building any relationship with his patient. And, those annoying Leaps of Logic comes to the forefront during his respite allowing him his "Roman Holiday", though those everyday "economic" expenses are not explained in the least ( free hotel room, food, theater ticket, bus transportation, etc.).
The film detours to an unsatisfying and unexpected conclusion that basically negates everything before it. As Cardinal Melville grapples with the anxiety of becoming one of the world's most exalted religious leader, Moretti too never comes to terms with his initial fascinating premise and his film's plot structure.
Fortunately, the talented French actor, Michel Piccoli gives a wonderfully subtle performance as Il papa. His nuanced facial expressions and sad soulful eyes convey the character's humility, fear, and wisdom beyond his years. It is superb acting that nearly makes up for some of the film's missteps along the way.
While many of the compelling elements are up there on the screen for a fine film, We Have a Pope simply needed to have a better script ( and ending ) to achieve a level of success. Still, Moretti does stay true to his vision and never becomes sentimental or mawkish. In We Have a Pope, while the job may remain unfilled, the moviegoer in us all regretfully remains unfulfilled as well. GRADE: B-
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