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With: Michel Piccoli, Nanni Moretti, Jerzy Stuhr, Margherita Buy
Written by: Nanni Moretti
Directed by: Nanni Moretti
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Language: Italian (and other langauges), with English subtitles
Running Time: 102
Date: 04/15/2011

We Have a Pope (2012)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Papal Thin

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

From what I've seen of Italian actor and filmmaker Nanni Moretti, he could be a terrific comedian, wise and self-aware, but not clownish or juvenile. He's often funny in his movies, but he seems to suffer from that all-too-common malady: the need to be taken seriously.

And so we get movies like The Son's Room -- a story about a family trying to get over the death of their child -- which awards committees were all too eager to recognize. Now he returns with We Have a Pope, a movie with a far more comedic situation, but one with which Moretti refuses to go all the way.

Oddly, the prestigious French film magazine Cahiers du Cinema chose it as the best picture of 2011, when there must have been at least 40 or 50 better choices.

The setup is simple. The current pope dies, and a new one must be chosen. The conclave retires and votes. Though news outlets speculate on three top contenders, the vote goes to dark horse Cardinal Melville (Michel Piccoli). But before he can go to the balcony to greet the masses, he panics and screams. He says he can't do it. 

A psychiatrist (Moretti) is called, but their meeting is monitored by all the other cardinals, and it doesn't go very far. The new pope escapes, checks into a hotel and begins hanging out with an acting troupe. The psychiatrist is not allowed to leave the Vatican, and so assembles a volleyball tournament for all the cardinals. Meanwhile, a double is chosen to hang out in the pope's apartment, eat the pope's meals and pace around to make it look like he's present, thinking, and praying.

When Moretti settles into the absurdity of time passing, with everyone in the world waiting for this pope to do something, the film turns amusing. Pundits on television talk about nothing as if to kill time. Moretti's character begins to take the volleyball tournament way too seriously. But unfortunately, the film keeps returning to the immense weight of the situation, and the pope never changes his response: I can't do it.

Moretti never connects the volleyball tournament -- the spirit of participating -- with the popehood, nor does he do anything further with the relationship between the psychiatrist and the pope (they only ever meet on camera one time). The fractured nature of the drama never enjoys being fractured, nor does it come together in a satisfying way. Similarly, the comedy and drama never see eye-to-eye.

The ending is perhaps just as dissatisfying as the rest... there's no conclusion reached, nothing gained or lost. That would be fine, if the situation had been played with or laughed at, but -- like the bulk of the story -- the movie itself just seems to be marking time, waiting for someone to take charge.

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