People make jokes
about growing up to be president one day, but what if that day suddenly came? What if you were offered one of the most powerful—and daunting—jobs on the planet, and what if you were wise enough to know exactly how daunting, nay impossible, such a position might be? That scenario only begins to approach what happens to back-bencher Cardinal Melville (French cinema icon Michel Piccoli), who is startled and terrified to find that his fellow cardinals have elected him Pope. He is so startled and terrified, in fact, that just as his name is about to be announced, he refuses to take up the post.
Italian writer/director Nanni Moretti (
The Son's Room
) has set himself something of an unenviable task: how to treat seriously the absurdities of Vatican bureaucracy and the real dilemmas of the situation described without turning to lampoon or farce. For the most part, he manages it rather well. He makes clear the cardinals’ human fallibility—their conclave begins in the dark, literally, and as the votes are tallied, many pray,
Not me, not me
—as well as their sincerity in supporting the dark-horse candidate they elect. And Piccoli’s new pontiff displays all too human behavior, especially for a good and humble man faced with the prospect of becoming God’s infallible representative on Earth. He cries out, he flees, he rejects the notion that he has it in him to do what the papacy demands. The concerned cardinals and the papal spokesman (Jerzy Stuhr) go so far as to bring in Rome’s foremost psychoanalyst (Moretti) to try to get to the bottom of Il Papa’s reluctance while they stall the faithful and the media over the delayed announcement.
The story heads in a heartwarming comedy/drama direction from there. Piccoli’s pontiff wanders Rome incognito, accepting wisdom from strangers and confessing his thwarted dreams of the stage. Moretti’s psychiatrist, prevented from leaving the Vatican by the need for secrecy, organizes the similarly trapped cardinals into a volleyball tournament. (Really.) But Moretti the writer/director never dips into sentimentality or easy homilies. Indeed, the droll, modestly entertaining
We Have a Pope
remains so averse to taking the easy way out that its ending is both entirely fitting and entirely unsatisfying.