After the death of the Pope, the Conclave hold a vote to determine the new Pontiff. Speculation runs rampant that the new Pope will be one of three men, but shockingly, a virtual unknown, Cardinal Melville, is elected by surprise. With the vote complete, the Holy See arrange for the announcement to a massive crowd at St. Peter’s Square and excitement begins to swirl around the world with the pending announcement. Moments before he is to address his followers, Cardinal Melville lets out a mournful wail, breaks down, and suffers a massive panic attack. The Cardinal flees from the ceremony, still unseen to the waiting public. Unsure of how to proceed, the announcement is nonetheless made that “We Have A Pope!” and those in St. Peter’s Square are advised that the new Pope has asked for seclusion and a time of prayer. The crowd is stunned, confused, and the announcement, broadcast throughout the entire world, sparks a mixture of compassion, confusion, and anger.
We Have A Pope is a brilliantly conceived film, but sadly, one that comes up short in delivering on the expectations that premise offers. Director and co-star Nanni Moretti aims for balance, mixing drama with comedy, and an overarching consideration of the power that religion has on the individual. We Have A Pope is quite an ambitious film and one that will certainly not exist without angering some who find that the Roman Catholic church and Catholicism has been attacked enough. Moretti and his co-writers, Francesco Piccolo and Federica Pontremoli, are not go on the attack here, but they do ask some thoughtful questions along the way. And as thought-provoking as the film might be, there is just no “Wow” here, nothing truly memorable or ultimately beyond the surface.
Moretti selected famed Italian actor Michel Piccoli to portray the rebellious Pontiff, and the actor, in his mid-80s, plays the role with a fair amount of believability. Watching Piccoli navigate through the moderrnized world may seem to be the stuff of mockery, but to the veteran actor’s credit, Piccoli is quite engaging and empathetic in portraying Melville’s plight and he is certainly reason alone to see the film.
Aiding things considerably, Nanni Moretti has a technically accomplished film on his hands, with the costume design and cinematography work quite terrific. But We Have A Pope never cohesively comes together the way in which you would expect. Sequences drag, subplots appear to be tossed in for some “Wait…what?” reactions, and eventually the film never follows through on a pretty novel idea.
Problematic and distancing is the fact that we never really learn the motivations of anyone here. Events just occur and we are left to wonder why truly, for example, the Vatican spokesman selects a slovenly stand-in to make the other Cardinals believe that the new Pope is undergoing the seclusion the Conclave granted. Prior to his escaping, The Vatican rush to employ psychoanalysts to study and affirm the new Pope’s mental faculties, but there is strong resistance to using psychoanalysts from those in attendance and no one bothered to see if he even believes in God. That they still use him after his response, requires a rather substantial leap of faith. As does the Cardinals organizing and competing in a competitive volleyball tournament, card game clubs, etc. I appreciate Moretti’s attempts at satire, but often, it feels that he and his writers failed to trust in their main story.
We Have A Pope is not a terrible film, but not a good one either. There is a constant sense that something big is coming right around the corner, but save some great moments with Michel Piccoli away from The Vatican, the film is one-note and lives at the cusp of almost being something more. Apparently there was controversy regarding the film’s subject matter and the Catholic Church were upset by its subject matter when it had its European run last fall. My sense is that the mere notion that a Cardinal would decline or vocalize that he does not want to be Pope verges on some form of blasphemy. Truth be told, there is no reason to be outraged. Perhaps if Nanni Moretti explored more of the provocative themes and ideas he hints at, then we have something to chew on and consider. Instead, We Have A Pope toys and pokes with its comedy and its drama and acknowledging a great lead performance, there is just not much to care about here.