The original title Habemus Papam translates as “we have a pope,” the official words announcing to the public that the Roman Catholic College of Cardinals has elected a new pontiff after the death of the previous one. Saying this is one thing, having a pope quite another when the chosen, compromise candidate Cardinal Melville resists accepting the intimidating position. Fear, humility, the overwhelming responsibility all factor in. Unsure how to proceed, cardinals summon psychoanalyst Dr. Bruzzi, who arrives to consult. There’s inspired humor as Dr. Bruzzi clarifies his permitted line of inquiry and numerous psychological topics are taken off the table.
As the reluctant Cardinal elected pope, Michel Piccoli embodies the conflicted psyche of this modest man. At 86-years of age, Piccoli has so smartly mastered the art of acting, that it’s a treat to flee with his incognito Cardinal Melville to the streets of Rome, his own walkabout. His likable persona and openness to life make the subsequent episodes as charming as they are thought provoking.
Meantime, back at the Vatican, the Cardinals must deal with the media and the pressure from the public, a chance for Moretti to score a few more satirical points. As events spin out of control, literal and figurative theater takes over in ways we postmodern audiences immediately recognize. However, a couple detours into some truly silly diversions means the viewer must accept a slightly uneven tone in order to embrace and enjoy the ride.
At last year’s Cannes film festival where We Have a Pope premiered in competition, some critics wondered about Moretti’s avoidance of serious criticism of the Catholic Church. Moretti made clear that this film is his “made-up story” meant to entertain. He succeeds with bright colors defining the art direction, plenty of Italian sun, and a generosity of spirit toward us flawed humans. In Italian with English subtitles. At a Landmark Theatre.