Young and charming, newly elected Pius XIII, aka Lenny Belardo, is the first American Pope in history. His ascension appears to be the result of a simple, effective media strategy implemented by the College of Cardinals. In the Vatican, however, the prevailing wisdom is the church's leaders have chosen a mysterious figure as their guiding force. And Pius XIII proves to be the most mysterious and contradictory of them all. As Belardo begins his reign, he is stubbornly resistant to the Vatican stewards, instead relying on Sister Mary to serve as his chief adviser. While she urges him to focus on leading his billion followers, the young pope shows little interest in making himself known, either to the College of Cardinals or to the masses. The 10-episode drama series stars Jude Law in the title role and Diane Keaton as Sister Mary, a nun from the U.S. now living in Vatican City.
Light, funny, strange, beautiful and utterly original
I guess I should start with what I don't like about this show - the dialogue is somewhat unnatural. There's no umming or erring at all, conversations are as rapid and resolute as in an American crime procedural, which is slightly weird most of the time but especially disturbing when coming from actors who aren't speaking in their first language, who happen to make up the vast majority of actors on this show.
That's it as far as flaws though, and I won't even deduct any points for this one flaw because there's a positive aspect to it, to the point that I can't even be 100% sure it wasn't intended - it adds to the feeling of surrealism that permeates every scene in this unique and wonderful creation. And when I say wonderful I mean it literally - this show is full of wonders at every corner. It keeps you constantly surprised, on edge, unsure of what on earth could possibly come next. The plot, the writing, the cinematography, the acting, the music, oh the music! The choice of music, the placement of it. Every single one of these things is done with so much balls, finesse and confidence and to the highest degree of quality. And most importantly it's a fuckload of fun, never for a second taking itself seriously, the aforementioned surrealism constantly popping up where you least expect it. It's as much a colourful satire of TV shows, film and life itself as it is one of the Church.
It's really rather hard to believe that Sky and HBO financed this gigantic odd piece of brilliantly experimental filmmaking. I'd never quite accepted what a few critics have begun to say recently, but with this show I think the penny's finally dropped for me on the notion that TV and streaming services are taking over the mantle of art in filmmaking. Which is really fortunate, since true artists like Sorrentino are finding it harder and harder these days to get movies made, and not only are many of them being given big budgets and free reign these days on TV (see also: Mr. Robot, The Knick) but this medium lets them tell much longer stories, and without being afraid that the audience will fall asleep or run off to the toilet with their bladders bursting. Praise our most holy father.
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