Movie review: 'We Have a Pope' finds the Vatican on lockdown


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It's the world and word according to satirist Nanni Moretti.

In "We Have a Pope," he creates his version of the Vatican, complete with a conclave and cardinals choosing a successor to a pontiff who has died. His fictitious universe is grounded in the rituals we last visited in 2005 after the death of Pope John Paul II.

That even includes the handicapping, which here singles out Cardinal Gregori (Renato Scarpa) as the favorite. Once the cardinals begin their votes in private, Gregori is among the three or four names chosen by the electors on multiple ballots.


'We Have a Pope'

2.5 stars = Average
Ratings explained
  • Starring: Michel Piccoli, Jerzy Stuhr, Renato Scarpa.
  • Rating: No MPAA rating, but PG-13 in nature. In Italian with English subtitles.

Somewhere along the way, though, a dark-horse compromise contender emerges in Cardinal Melville (French actor Michel Piccoli), and he is chosen as pope. Members of the conclave stand to applaud and sing, while the white smoke and ringing of bells outside inform the faithful that there is a new Earth-bound leader of the church.

But just as the pope is expected on the balcony to deliver a blessing or speech to a jubilant St. Peter's Square, he panics and bolts.

As the media are fed a story about the Holy Father retiring in prayer, the Vatican continues on lockdown. It invites a psychoanalyst, played by Mr. Moretti, in to speak with the pope, who insists, "God sees abilities in me I don't have. Where are these abilities? I look for them and find nothing."

Subterfuge continues as the pope falls in with some new friends while the psychotherapist warms to his confinement and privileged peek inside the Vatican. The comedy, however, eventually gives way to a conclusion that is bracing and dramatic but at odds with the largely gentle tone that's come before.

"We Have a Pope" expertly replicates the trappings of the Vatican, from the cardinals' crimson robes to the Sistine Chapel and even a lead actor who looks a little like the late Pope John XXIII. When the power briefly goes out and one of the cardinals asks, "Do they know outside that we're in darkness?" the question can be interpreted literally and figuratively.

Free will, God's will, unexpected freedom and virtual imprisonment, a one-size-fits-all therapy diagnosis along with feelings of inadequacy spill beyond the confines of the church. So do the reactions of the silly or sheepish media and the papal spokesman (Jerzy Stuhr) who oversteps his bounds.

But the screenplay never adequately addresses the crisis of confidence at the heart of the movie and that is its sin, mortal or venial, and ultimate downfall. It's one thing to provoke and satisfy an audience, another to simply shock it, which is what happens here.

Opens Friday at the Regent Square Theater.

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Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: www.post-gazette.com/madaboutmovies.


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