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We Have a Pope (Habemus Papam)

Chicago International Film Festival 2011

We Have a Pope Directed by: Nanni Moretti Cast: Michel Piccoli, Nanni Moretti, Margherita Buy Running Time: 1 hr 42 mins Rating: NR Release Date: TBD

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PLOT: A cardinal (Piccoli) doesn't want to be pope, despite being elected by his superiors.

WHO'S IT FOR? Religious moviegoers might find this to be funny, with its respectful portrayal of respected figures and of the Vatican itself. However, everyone, not just those who believe in the pope, will be shaken up by this movie's moments in the third act.


With all of the pressures and requirements, being a world leader must be the worst job in the world. But would could be even more dreadful? How about considering denying papacy after being elected to rule the Catholic world?

Michel Piccoli plays Cardinal Melville, a simple cardinal who comes to the Vatican after the recent pope’s death in order to vote for a new pope. To his surprise, the majority of his 107 colleagues vote for him, which is something he doesn’t take in a manner that everyone would expect him to. He escapes soon after from the watchful eye of his Vatican ringleaders, and walks around Rome hoping to find answers in his world-changing discussion. While he’s “retired to his room for prayer,” the cardinals start their own volleyball tournament in the Vatican.

Some might try to advertise this as a comedy, which isn’t an entirely false selling point. Yes, there are funny moments in the movie. It’s very amusing to see cardinals play volleyball in the Vatican, in the same manner that makes “Nuns with Guns” calendars so timeless. But these moments come as comfort to the audience, if not even filler. It’s got a few giggles in there, which are surely to keep audience members in tune with the movie as it moves along.

This movie essentially disarms its audience with its big Vatican sets and big casts of cardinals, especially as it shows them playing competitive volleyball (one of them wants to play “Prison Dodgeball”).

It takes such a difficult situation to both the comedic and dramatic ends, and rattles some cages in the process, without pandering in parody or cheap shots. Discussions about evolution are tame, and the inclusion of a psychoanalyst in a world of spiritual men is not made for immediate yuk-yuks.

In the beginning it seems like a religious comedy. But then it ends with something that no one of Catholic faith, especially those who believe in the all-powerful word of the pope, could ever find funny.

We Have a Pope articulately ruminates on an extraordinary dilemma that speaks beyond just a man’s simple hesitation to assume a position he doesn’t want. It goes to goofy ends of humor, but explores even darker sides of religious power and vulnerability.


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