Cannes 2011 Review: We Have A Pope

In short, this film doesn't show a Church out of touch with its worshippers, it shows a director out of touch with his craft.

rating: 2

A comedy about a Pope on the run sounds like it should be a '60s farce, preferably starring John Cleese. Actually it's an Italian dramedy made by Nanni Moretti. And although he has a name like an old lady's biscuit, he's actually rather good. 'The Son's Room' and 'The Caiman' did well on the festival circuit on their releases in 2001 and 2006, so the appearance of 'We Have A Pope' at Cannes carried with it huge hopes, but sadly it doesn't live up to expectations. Why the disappointment? Because a concept ripe for some comedy and playful ribbing of an ancient institution struggling to keep up with modernity is shamefully squandered in what turns out to be a rather self-indulgent affair. It all begins so well, as the Cardinals gather from all over the world to elect their new Pope. As the faithful watch on in silent vigil, their spiritual leaders seal themselves off in isolation, in order to receive the word of the Lord and elect the new leader of their faith. Or so everyone thinks. In actual fact the procedure is mostly squabbling, and mumbled prayers begging God not to lumber them with the burden of responsibility. And when surprise candidate Cardinal Melville (Michel Piccoli) is elected, he promptly has a nervous breakdown. Unable to persuade him of his ability to press on with his esteemed duties, his colleagues decide to turn to the knowledge of man for advice. Against all of their best judgement, and with significant reluctance, they call in an eminent psychologist (Moretti) to try and sort the problem. Already there's a little too much bare-faced farce for my taste, but still the prospect has some potential. So what happens next? An interplay between psychology and theology? A battle between the personal and divine? A discussion on the virtues of age and wisdom vs the energy and vitality of youth. Alas no. Instead, the newly elected Pope does a runner. It's an apt metaphor for Moretti's own flight from the core issues he is bringing to the fore in his story. Rather than face his responsibilities and finish what he started, both Moretti and the Pope, run off and indulge in some serious navel-gazing. As Piccoli sets about the difficult task of trying to seriously portray a highly educated, deeply devout man having essentially a humdrum mid-life crisis, Moretti indulges in some half-hearted comedy, as his psychologist coerces his captive Cardinals in games of volleyball, verbal sparring matches and card games. It's beautifully shot, and there are moments of humour and insight that occasionally shine through the lackluster plot, but there is too little meat on the bones of this tale. For instance, when the Pope looks deep into his past to try and find out why he can't cope with the pressures of Popedom, all he finds are some unfulfilled dreams of becoming an actor. Sure it's a neat little jab at the inherent theatre of religious ceremony, but beyond that, it's a rather meagre attempt to explain such a colossal collapse of faith (both in himself as a man and in his religion). Meanwhile the psychologist is genuinely little more than an orchestrator of farcical and physical comedy, rarely extending any powers of deduction to those around him. And as a result it's very hard to care about him, or the work he is supposedly undertaking. In short, this film doesn't show a Church out of touch with its worshippers, it shows a director out of touch with his craft. Bring the festival experience home this year on Blu-ray Disc €“ keep up to date with all the latest Blu-ray news at the Blu-ray Disc Reporter.
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Matt Holmes is the co-founder of What Culture, formerly known as Obsessed With Film. He has been blogging about pop culture and entertainment since 2006 and has written over 10,000 articles.