A sweet-natured comedy about a reluctant pontiff, “We Have a Pope” bumbles from set piece to set piece without getting anywhere. Its central theme of the panicked leader will be familiar to anyone who has watched Tony Soprano on the psychiatrist’s couch, or enjoyed the spectacle of King George VI taking elocution lessons in “The King’s Speech.” But here, the tale of a humble cardinal who is unprepared for his elevation to the papacy lacks dramatic drive.
Known for his satirical bent, director Nanni Moretti is respectful and even reverential toward the Catholic Church hierarchy and its traditions. In the absence of any ironic flair, Mr. Moretti gives us a sumptuously decorated recreation of the inner sancta of St. Peter's Basilica and a mildly humorous look at a man tormented by doubt.
Michel Piccoli plays Cardinal Melville, a dark-horse candidate chosen to be pope after a few inconclusive ballots. Before he can appear on the balcony to introduce himself to the faithful, he erupts in a fit and runs away. Vatican law requires the cardinals to remain inside the Holy See until his announcement, and this sequestration leads them to hire a psychoanalyst (played by Mr. Moretti) to help the new pope get over his anxieties.
The few scenes of the pope undergoing psychoanalysis in full view of the collected cardinals are broadly comic and enjoyable. But when the pope manages to escape the clutches of his minders and begin drifting through Rome, the action becomes scattered and detached. It’s fun and bracing to imagine the pope, in ordinary nonclerical garb, wandering through Rome, meeting people and ingratiating himself with a troupe of actors. But much of the film is devoted to how the Vatican is handling the runaway pope, with the cardinals engaging in a volleyball tournament organized by the suddenly fanatical psychoanalyst.
Jerzy Stuhr is wonderful as the beleaguered Vatican spokesman who tries to cover for the pope’s absence by installing a Swiss Guard in the papal apartments to cast shadows against the curtains, in order to convince the faithful that the pope is deep in meditations and will soon rouse himself to speak. But the many fine performances don’t save the movie from being scattershot, ill-defined and not all that funny.
TITLE: “We Have a Pope” (in Italian with English subtitles)
RATING: No rating
RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS
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