We have a Pope, or not yet

So the Vatican chimney has belched out the white smoke. And as Pope Francis prepares for his papacy, here's a movie for your papal weekend. Nanni Moretti's We Have A Pope may not be the sharpest satire of the Catholic Church, but it certainly has its bites and a soulful, sympathetic performance by Michel Piccoli, playing an underdog cardinal who's crowned Pope and suddenly finds himself in a spiritual meltdown.

Michel Piccoli plays a newly elected Pope facing a spiritual crisis.

The original title of this 2011 Italian film is Habemus Papam _ the Latin phrase announced to the crowd when the conclave holed up in Sistine Chapel finally gets a new Pope (the English title is the translation of the phrase). It begins, naturally, with the death of the old pontiff, prompting the Vatican to convene the meeting of cardinals, most of them adorably old and plump. Not tipped as a frontrunner, Cardinal Melville is however elected, much to his alarm, and when it's time for him to make a debut appearance on the balcony to greet the throngs of Catholics waiting at St Peter's Square, Melville is a wreck of doubt and fear, then the worst strikes: He's lost faith.

In a panic, the papal office summons a famous psychiatrist, played by the director himself. And after a comical scene of attempted verbal therapy, Melville slips out of the walled city and wanders the streets of Rome. He visits another psychiatrist, the wife of the one who tries to cure him, and ends up in a theatre while a rehearsal of a play is taking place. Meanwhile in the Vatican, to kill time while waiting for the resolution to this unprecedented crisis, the cardinals relieve stress by playing volleyball, with the psychiatrist as coach. It's a sight gag that's not as funny as it may sound.

Still, Piccoli, a veteran of European cinema, carries Melville with dejected grace. The idea that a heavily robed, crowned and burdened papacy is a form of theatre _ a lifelong acting job _ is slightly predictable, and yet Piccoli makes it look delicate and convincing. Director Moretti, whose previous film The Caiman mocks Silvio Berlusconi, seems to lose the grasp of his own satire midway, but finds a strong ending, again with the aid of Piccoli. A film about a great escape, it might strike a chord with the retired Benedict XVI, or who knows, even the new Pope Francis.

We Have A Pope never opened in Thailand, but you can buy the DVD of the film online.

About the author

columnist
Writer: Kong Rithdee
Position: Deputy Life Editor