Film Review: We Have A Pope [London Film Festival 2011]

on Friday, October 14, 2011
'Habemus Papam'/'We Have A Pope' (UK Release: 2 Dec '11) // Words: Saam Das

The election of a new Pope is generally seen as a celebratory occasion. 'We Have A Pope' suggests for the cardinals awaiting election that this probably isn't the case and derives a great deal of humour from the subsequent misfortune of the Pope elect.

Following an unexpected election victory, Michel Piccoli emerges as our new Pope. Albeit only briefly as he realises that he isn't ready for the supposed honour just as he is about to be unveiled. Cue a meeting with psychotherapist Nanni Moretti, who also happens to be the film's director and co-writer.

The meeting does little to assuage Piccoli's concerns and a meeting with another psychotherapist is arranged. It's not long till Piccoli sees his chance for freedom and escapes. The news of his disappearance is not passed on to the cardinals or Moretti, who have all been forced to stay at the Vatican until a Pope is unveiled. Preferably the one that's already been elected.

The title of 'We Have A Pope' becomes something of a misnomer - for 90% (or more) of the film, they most certainly do not have a Pope. A humourous facade is then arranged by the Vatican's administrators, itself upstaged in the comedy stakes by the international volleyball tournament organised for the cardinals by Moretti.

The juxtaposition of Moretti's cynicism and the cardinals' Catholicism lends a further subversive depth to the comedy, without ever being too critical of one or the other. Equally, there is a great deal of heart in seeing Piccoli's fantastic portrayal of a struggle with the burden of expectation and the wish for a simpler life.

The abrupt ending is saddening for its lack of resolution, although there is arguably a knowing realisation that the situation is not going to work out - least of all for Piccoli. This is tragicomedy but only to an extent, and it's a shame that Moretti never quite wants to commit fully to the inherent drama of the latter half of the film.

Religion is rarely thought to be ripe for comedy considering the remarkable ease with which fervent religious types get upset. For the rest of us, who retain a sense of humour, the likes of 'The Life Of Brian', 'Four Lions' and (despite its flaws) now 'We Have A Pope' can be enjoyed for their satirical masterclasses.


'We Have A Pope' is screening at the 55th BFI London Film Festival. The film is scheduled for release across the UK in December 2011.

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