Cinema Review – We Have A Pope (Habemus Papam)


On the death of the Pope, the conclave gathers in Rome to elect a successor. Cardinal Melville (Michel Piccoli) is elected, but after he accepts his office, the new Pope is seized by panic and refuses to greet the crowd gathered in St Peter’s Square. According to the laws of the Church, conclave continues until the Pope appears before the people, but, while on a visit to a psychoanalyst, His Holiness runs away, throwing the Holy See into chaos.

We Have a Pope (Habemus Papam) was shown at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, and is the fifth film from director Nanni Moretti to screen at the festival. The film was released in Italy before the Cannes festival and received polite and respectful reviews, although these caused the festival buzz around the film to cool somewhat.

At the outset, it seems as though We Have a Pope is going to amble into territory covered earlier this year in The King’s Speech; the new Pope (Michel Piccoli) is elected and quickly panics at the level of responsibility being laid upon his shoulders. After a doctor examines the pontiff, the bewildered clerics at the Vatican call in a psychoanalyst to try and help the new Pope understand where his feelings of fear have come from. Director Nanni Moretti – who frequently appears in his own films – plays this psychoanalyst and just as the film is gearing up towards an emotional connection between patient and doctor, the film swerves in another direction. The Pope runs away from the Vatican and sets off on a solo journey of reflection and soul searching, leaving the Cardinals in conclave and psychoanalyst Moretti unable to leave the confines of the city.

This separation of layman and clergy leads to the Pope wandering the streets anonymously, discovering the kindness of strangers and pontificating about the doubts that plague him to a bus full of strangers, and leaves the psychoanalyst adrift in a country he does not understand. While the Pope’s introspection is interesting to watch, and Michel Piccoli easily conveys the idea of a man lost in the world he created for himself, this is where the film begins to lose its way. Coherence appears to go by the wayside in favour of connecting with strangers, for both men. His Holiness falls in with a troupe of actors while the psychiatrist sets up a volleyball tournament in the confines of the Vatican. Moretti’s character provides a sounding board for the Cardinals ensconced in conclave, but instead of attacking the church he does not believe in, he sets up games in order to connect with these men on a secular level. Both men learn something about themselves from their experiences, but it is difficult for the audience to understand what their personal revelations are.

Nanni Moretti has never shied away from controversy; his 2006 film Il Caimano deals in part with the controversies surrounding Silvio Berlusconi, so it is not incredibly surprising that he decided to take on the Vatican. Instead of tearing up material that the audience is familiar with, however, Moretti moves away from the scandals that have plagued the church in recent years and examines the man behind the title of Pope.

We Have a Pope is an interesting look behind the walls of the Vatican and into the mind of a person who rises to the top of his chosen vocation. The film has moments of humour but is far from the great comedy it is billed as, and Moretti’s narrative choices let him down at times. While the film is an interesting watch with moments of humour and touches of beauty while examining human consequences, it could have been better with a little more coherence.

Rating: 4/5

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