Seems like a good day for a re-run! We have a pope!
Last year as the world waited for Nanni Moretti’s movie, Habemus Papam about the Pope and his therapist the camps were polarizing and poising to react; those critical of the church hoping for a decisive blow against the Vatican from an irreverent Moretti and the Catholic faithful ready to condemn Moretti for insulting it. And even when the movie was released and more objective eyes realized that it lacked the controversy that had been expected, a lot of people found it hard not to see what they were sure they would see.
In Habemus Papam, We Have a Pope, to the church’s critics dismay and despite what the faithful thinks, Moretti doesn’t condemn, mock or humiliate the pope or the Vatican, he just brings it all to a human level. Could it be that Moretti didn’t have it in him this time? Or maybe it’s just that he isn’t the bully that everyone’s making him out to be. After all, his last film, Caos Calma, Quiet Chaos, is a movie about a father trying to protect his little girl, and in his Palme D’or winner La Stanza del Figlio (The son’s room) , about a family’s grief when a son dies, so expecting a protest film might have been wishful thinking.
Moretti was asked if the sex scandal and financial trouble in the Catholic Church affected the script in anyway, and he said that but for a few lines about how the church finds it hard to admit mistakes, “I wasn’t interested in reminding viewers of what they already knew. I thought it was too easy. So I preferred to invent my own Vatican. I never thought to let myself be led by breaking news.”
In Habemus Papam, sequestered in the Sistine Chapel, the cardinals are choosing the next Pope and each praying to God that he isn’t chosen, so here’s something I’d never considered: it isn’t exactly like hitting the lottery. It’s a monumental burden and the “winner” had better be up to the challenge.
The film’s “winner”, Melville, isn’t. Before he can even come out on the balcony at St. Peter’s to greet the masses, he has a giant panic attack and runs to hide. When all medical reasons for his behavior are exhausted, a therapist is reluctantly called, “the best in Rome”, played by Moretti. Given very limited parameters (no asking about his holiness’s mother, childhood, or faith) and with the cardinals all standing around watching Moretti tries to get to bottom of it as Melville continues to cry out “Non ce la faccio!” – “I can’t!”
All about expectations, the movie, first shown in competition at Cannes, has chosen a Pope for protagonist almost by chance. It could have been a young college student whose family expects him to go into the family business when he graduates and would rather be a NASCAR driver, or a woman who wants to remain childless when her family and friends expect her to have children. How does one say “no” when the world is calling you to a position you do not wish to fill?
Making it about a pope makes for a grander and more beautiful movie, with Rome and the Vatican as a backdrop and cardinal red all around. And it made it, of course, more intense. The Pope isn’t just saying “no” to his colleagues or followers, he’s saying “no” to God, and God, who doesn’t err, has chosen him.
Nanni Moretti’s part is much smaller than I’d expected with most of the plot centering around Melville, who flies the coop and runs incognito around Rome. Moretti provides a little humor back at the Vatican as he amuses himself by organizing volleyball tournaments for the cardinals. Margherita Buy’s part, also a therapist and Moretti’s character’s ex-wife is more of a cameo.
I am Catholic, so maybe I saw things that those who are not just can’t, but there’s a profound beauty in Habemus Papam as this man, the Pope, struggles to decide what is his obligation to the world. I’m still glad that Terraferma was sent for Oscar consideration, but I liked Habemus Papam very much and I’d like to thank Moretti for his balanced and thoughtful look at the Catholic Church.
Nanni Moretti, Francesco Piccolo, Frederica Pontremoli
Nanni Moretti, Michel Piccoli, Jerzy Stuhr, Renato Scarpa, Margherita Buy