We Have A Pope Netflix | Google Play | YouTube | Amazon DVD | DVD
Directed by Nanni Moretti
Starring Michel Piccoli, Nanni Moretti, Jerzy Stuhr, Renato Scarpa, Lucia Mascino
Originally Released: April 15, 2011
With the selection of the new Pope this week, Francis I, it would be opportune to take a look at a film about the Papacy and the Vatican. Despite any criticisms or predisposition one might have about the leadership of the Catholic Church – whether a believer or not – the tradition of the Conclave in which a new Pontiff is elected has major historic significance, and is done so in a secretive manner that captures the attention of millions for a wide spectrum of reasons.
The convention of electing a Pope is not only secretive, but incredibly complicated, and has been going on for thousands of years. In the face of growing criticism from many over the scandals and cover-ups that have afflicted the Church in recent years, it’s tempting to dive into a film that perhaps examines these elements, a movie that attempts to highlight the aging tradition has no place in the contemporary.
And yet, that would be too straightforward. So I decided to try and find something a little different about the Papacy. My choice was heavily influenced by this video by CGP Grey:
As you can see, the complicated process of a Papal election is a game of numbers, highlighting the rarity of being the chosen one who would be Pope.
We Have A Pope, originally titled Habemus Papem, focus on this actual process – but also the emotional turmoil the Cardinals face in the powerful position they may be elected to fulfill. The film begins with the Conclave in which the new Pope is to be selected. Cardinal Melville (Michel Piccoli) is selected; but just as it is announced to the faithful in St. Peter’s Square, he freezes up in a panic attack, unable to make his appearance.
Locked up in secrecy due to the fact the Conclave is considered incomplete until the new Pope comes out before the crowd, the Cardinals are at a loss at what to do. Melville begins to experience a crisis of faith, not in his beliefs, but rather a crisis of faith in himself. What follows is an endearing journey, waggish during many moments, where the selected pontiff does not want the role that has been placed before him, and the Vatican strives to convince him otherwise.
What drew me to this particular film was a review by a user at Netflix. "As an Atheist", the reviewer begins, "I thoroughly enjoyed this respectful, whimsical, and at times, hilarious look at the process of electing a pope". The commentator finishes with, "It’s a crying shame a film like this did not do better in the USA". To be fair, this person’s assessment of Habemus Papem is correct.
The film’s plot is unwavering, with plenty of emotional fortitude, demanding to look at an element of the Conclave that has never really been focused on before.
But the movie is also billed as a comedy, and it really is in the true sense of the word: We Have A Pope is a captivating drama story that uses comedy to great effect; as opposed to being based as a comedy for slapstick effect.
Don’t get me wrong: I am a HUGE fan of irreverent humor, and hold the Monty Python lads in the highest of esteem when it comes to their hilarious commentary on religion – but in Habemus Papem, we get an incredibly bold yet tasteful look at the Catholic process, loaded with much emotion and some brilliant performances, that is only enhanced by the comedic moments.
Piccoli is absolutely luminous in this movie, and resembles Pope John Paul II immensely throughout the film. Nanni Moretti‘s psychiatrist role is a farcical representation of how disbelievers and critics seem to think the Conclaves progress, and is a substantially amusing facet. Renato Scarpa is also memorable as one of the cardinals, as is Lucia Mascino who appears as a shop keeper in an extremely short cameo that stands out brilliantly.
On the technical side, the camera work is excellent, welling up in a manner that adds to the story. To complement the settings, the cameras are allowed to pick up many aspects most filmmakers would avoid, such as the "extended bus" turning a corner that gives a curious, though symbolic view. Colors come to play a significant role in the movie, particularly as Moretti gets lost in his psychostudy farce.
All in all, We Have A Pope is actually a really good movie. Any religious relationships or lack thereof can be placed to the side for this one, as it focuses in on emotional pressures, and moments in time that affect the courses of our lives. It’s a fitting and timely selection for this week, and is unquestionably worth a look. Add it to your queue and check it out some time.