We Have a Pope
Directed by Nanni Moretti
The cardinal who is elected pope in Nanni Moretti’s Vatican-set parable is named Melville, and when the nervous nellie balks at the mantle of power and responsibility, the author of “Bartleby, the Scrivener” may come to mind. Faced with the prospect of leading millions of Catholics and laying down the religious law, Melville (played by Michel Piccoli) would prefer not to—a decision not to act that leaves the church’s inner sanctum up in arms and impatient believers in limbo.
When a therapist (Nanni Moretti) is recruited, it might seem that the film-essayist, memoirist and satirist most recently behind The Caiman is threatening to go the way of Analyze This (Papal Bull), and indeed the film gets its goofball kicks and sarcastic digs at infallible authority, and pomp and circumstance. The confidentiality of therapy proves an awkward fit for Vatican officials accustomed to running the show; the inherently theatrical setting (red robes! prime real estate steps from St. Peter’s Basilica!) becomes the set for a behind-the-walls volleyball round robin among cardinals. But what keeps the high concept afloat are the lows which the eighty-something Piccoli is willing to portray, as a man addled by fear, and by fear even of that fear. The actor brings an unassuming, childlike manner to the role, without portraying a walking narcissistic fantasy that the mighty, too, are wracked by doubt.
What does ail Melville, who would defy centuries of tradition for the selfish sin of... insecurity? Moretti (who, despite years as a showman, is able to cede the spotlight to Piccoli) leaves open the nature of the beast. The definitions and processes of psychotherapy prove insufficient, nor are past debates over spiritual doubt offered as ennobling history, nor even is Melville’s flight among the flock presented with a glibness that might comfort. The film may underwhelm, but for a reason, a kind of novella that stops in full thrall to its stricken protagonist.
Opens April 6