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HABEMUS PAPAM, a Roman Review

WE HAVE A POPE (HABEMUS PAPAM, Italy, 2011)

This year at Cannes Nanni Moretti’s latest film, HEBEMUS PAPAM, screened in competition. The film is about a new pope (played by Michel Piccoli) who decides he cannot take the colossal responsibility of his new public role and ends up seeking psychological help to come to terms with his private past. In the morning before the film’s world premier at the Cannes press conference, a circus of press swarmed around the adored Italian director. While I did not attend the premier I screened the film in Rome just days after the festival.

The film starts out promising with a virtuoso balance between the serious and comical. We have the cardinals flitting about the Vatican, puffed up with anxiety over the fretful situation as they vote for their new pope and when the pope is elected he is so overwhelmed by the new role that he experiences a panic attack and refuses to face the millions of waiting pious Catholics outside in the Vatican square and the millions watching via satellite TV. The pope decides he needs time to figure out his past before assuming his papacy. For this reason, Cardinal Gregori (played by Renato Scarpa) brings in a psychologist (played by Nanni Moretti) to help the pope resolve his problems as quickly as possible so he can assume his newly elected position. This is where the movie promises to be an adventure and tips more over to the comical than the dramatic. The pope runs away and the psychoanalyst begins analyzing all the cardinals and nuns of the Vatican instead while the pope loses himself in comfortable anonymity wandering Rome streets and seeks his own psychological counsel from a female psychoanalyst (played by Margherita Buy).

While the film reminded me of a cross between ANALYZE THIS (1999) and ANALYZE THAT (2002), midway through the film, Nanni the psychologist coaches an overdrawn game of volleyball between the nuns and cardinals in the Vatican courtyard. This is where the film comes to a screeching halt for me and where I lost interest. One doesn’t know whether to feel sorry for the pope who is on a lonely pilgrimage journey through Rome or for the film itself as it started off so promising and then fails to deliver. What is the film about? If it’s a critique on the church then it cuts without sting and fails to impress. And if it's about the struggle within oneself between the will of spiritual social duty of one who must live for the group (the Catholic Church in this case) and the will towards psychological self-individuation, then the pope is left hanging in the air and we never really see him make that arc. In sum, my feeling is that while the film could’ve been really about something, it only vaguely scratches the surface and has about as much effect on this viewer (as comment on the Catholic Church and its antique tradition) as a sneeze during vespers. But, if you like Nanni Moretti and you liked ANALYZE THIS, you might just enjoy seeing this witty ROMAN/COMEDY.

Written by Vanessa McMahon June 07, 2011

 Nanni Moretti at Cannes. Photo by Vanessa McMahon 

 

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