By Helen Dines
On the death of the Pope, the conclave meets in Rome in order to elect his successor. So opens We Have a Pope, directed by Nanni Moretti.
After numerous rounds of voting without any of the ‘favourites’ being declared an outright winner, rank outsider Cardinal Melville (Michel Piccoli) is surprisingly elected as Pope. The election scene brings it home that, underneath resplendent robes, the Cardinals are very human too. We see each of them praying not to be given the huge and daunting responsibility of the Papacy. Poor Cardinal Melville is shocked and terrified at the news, suffering a panic attack and refusing to address the faithful gathered below St Peter’s balcony.
Chaos ensues until the Vatican Spokesman (played with gusto by Jerzy Stuhr) decides to enlist the help of psychoanalyst Professor Brezzi (director and writer Nanni Moreti) to try and talk the new Pope round. While the psychoanalyst becomes unwittingly ensconced in the Vatican with only the Cardinals for company, Melville proves that he is wilier than he looks and makes a break for it. He manages to find some freedom, wandering around Rome, reminiscing on his past and what might have been.
Stuck in this unusual situation, an initially frustrated Brezzi decides to use his free time to psychoanalyse his fellow inmates and organise a volleyball tournament. For me, this is where the film starts to lose its appeal. I expected some genuinely funny moments between Brezzi and the Cardinals but aside from some amusing distractions (the volleyball tournament included) the film never really takes off. However, despite the seemingly directionless script, Piccoli gives a sensitive performance as Pope-to-be.
The score, by Franco Piersanti, is gorgeously layered, especially in the opening scenes, complimenting the beautiful shots of the Vatican’s inner sanctums and the resplendent robes of the Cardinals: all of this combining to give the viewer a great sense of the grandeur and power of the institution.
Don’t be fooled – this is neither The King’s Speech or Analyse This. Nor is it a commentary on the Catholic Church. While it is an occasionally entertaining and touching story about fear and duty with some great performances and lovely exchanges, the ending lets the film down. Thought provoking, yes and maybe it’s just me but the film manages to tread the fine line between What If and So What?