Considering the slashing he gave Berlusconi in Il caimano (2006), it’s surprising that Moretti, prominent leftist filmmaker in Italy for over three decades now, shows such restraint in a film concerned with the Catholic Church. Regardless, it’s felicitous, as his commentary is all the more effective for its tact.
Upon being elected, the new pope (Piccoli) suffers a breakdown, refusing to hold his inaugural address. The cardinals improbably seek the help of a psychoanalyst (Moretti’s not-so-alter ego for the occasion), but the reluctant pontiff runs away to reflect on his crippling doubts while wandering Rome. Meanwhile, the psychoanalyst is kept locked up with the cardinals, playing cards, offering psychoanalytic readings of the bible and eventually organising an international cardinal volleyball tournament that fans of Moretti’s classic Palombella rossa (1989) will appreciate.
Piccoli gives a touching performance, portraying a vulnerable old man coming to terms with an unfulfilled life. His crisis is personal, not spiritual, and the target isn’t religion, but the role assigned to the Church by itself as much as by the (Italian) people.
That the Church has a positive role to play in terms of spirituality but should not be regarded as a source of guidance otherwise is an axiom of the Italian left, and it’s refreshing to have it presented without vitriol in a humane film suffused with subtle humour.
Habemus Papam | Directed by Nanni Moretti (Italy/France 2011) with Michel Piccoli, Nanni Moretti. Starts November 8.