We Have A Pope, the latest effort from Nanni Moretti (The Son’s Room) boasts a super premise – what if the newly announced Pope simply can’t face taking on the job? – but ultimately ends up as lost, if not more so, than its wayward papal protagonist.
The film begins strongly. In the Vatican, scores of cardinals collect together to cast votes to elect the new Pope, and the process is presented as an amusingly glorified cousin of a third round F.A. Cup draw, sans Graham Kelly. The surprise victor is the unassuming Cardinal Melville (Michel Piccoli). Just before Melville is due to make his commencement speech, however, he falls victim to a crippling attack of self-doubt, and declares himself unable to do the job. Consequently, a top psychoanalyst (played by the charismatic, suavely bearded Moretti) is called in to assess him.
Just when the scene is set for a potentially riveting psychological showdown between Moretti and the would-be Pope, Melville runs away, leaving his inquisitor alone with the rest of the cardinals, and the Vatican’s communications team with an almighty mess to hide from the watching world. This plot point is an unfortunate turn of events which all but deflates the film, for while we get to enjoy the amusing scenario of God’s representative on Earth chilling out on a bus and joining an am-dram troupe, Moretti is reduced to playing card games with the eccentric cardinals and – I kid you not – organising a volleyball tournament (which seems to go on forever).
There are some very funny, nicely observed moments along the way, yet the whole affair is so gentle that if Moretti is taking a massive swipe at the Catholic church, it’s extremely difficult to notice. Other than the belatedly brave ending, and the Pope’s suggestion at one stage that he wants to “make changes” (giving a hint that he may be of a reformist bent), there is very little incendiary on show here.We Have A Pope is watchable and entertaining, but overall registers as a missed opportunity.
A version of this review originally appeared in PPH’s coverage of the 55th BFI London Film Festival.
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