Thursday, June 7, 2012

Film Review: We Have A Pope

In an acerbic tone reminiscent of Buñuel at his satiric height, Nanni Moretti's lovingly snide take on the Catholic Church and its faults and foibles is as subtly nuanced and as sweetly sentimentalized as it is sharp-tongued and laceratingly droll.  With a scope that is narrowed from the all out assault on organized religion that permeates many of Italian cinema's greatest works, to a softly witty tale of one man whose faith has made him the leader of the church but whose insecurity has made him unable to lead.  In other terms, Moretti gives the church its well-deserved jabs, but also shows the all-too human side of papal life, and how such immeasurable faith and perceived absolute power can weigh on a man's very soul.

Playing out as part comedy and part drama, We Have A Pope, starts out as the former pope dies and the conclave to elect a new chief pontiff gets underway.  After much self-deliberation (and some pretty hilarious voice-over inner thought insights) a quiet cardinal by the name of Melville is elected - much to his ever-increasing chagrin.  After a near-balcony emotional meltdown just as he is about to be announced to the faithful throngs that fill St. Peter's Square, Melville retires (runs full throttle in the midst of the mother of anxiety attacks, if you will) to his chambers with no reasonable thoughts of coming back out.  Of course this causes a bit of a problem for the other cardinals and the bureaucrats of the Vatican, who must belay any ceremonies and keep the eager press at more than arm's length.   Bringing in a psychoanalyst, played by the director himself, doesn't really help at all.  After a secret visit to another psychoanalyst (the ex-wife of the first) things begin to go even more awry.  

Moretti, whose other films include the tragic The Son's Room and the comic self-parody Felliniesque Caro Diario, gives the film both heft (through the inner turmoil of the wouldbe pope) and absurdity (through the director as psychoanalyst setting up a round robin volleyball tournament for all the visiting cardinals), but at the proverbial heart and soul center of the film is the performance of French actor-cum-icon Michel Piccoli as the aforementioned titular Papal BMOC.  The actor, best known for his roles in Godard's Contempt and Buñuel's Belle de Jour, though he has appeared in some of the most respected of art films such as Diary of a Chambermaid, The Young Girl's of Rochefort, The Milky Way and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (to name just a few), gives a quieter, more retrospective performance than we are used to from the usually bravura thespian, but that most certainly does not mean it is any less powerful or brilliant or whatever you want to call it.

Between Piccoli's subtly masterful performance (we are surprisingly shaken by his predicament) and Moretti's blend of silly satiric humour and sincere emotional pathos (Laugh? Cry? How 'bout both!) and a kicker of an ending that is a narrative bombshell, this seemingly disarming Italian dramedy slaps you with a surprise right hook just when you think you have it all figured out.  Simply put, a delightful and dangerous film both.  Sincerely delightful and dangerous indeed.  An oddly tender look at the church that shows both its ridiculous nature and its inherent, oft-overlooked humanity.  And surely a film that any who like the nuanced narratives of classic Commedia all'italiana and the satiric world of Fellini and Buñuel should most definitely take the time to see.

No comments: