Outside of his homeland, Nanni Moretti (Dear Diary, The Son's Room) is one of the select band of Italian directors whose name means something to arthouse audiences. Here he turns his sardonic gaze on the Vatican and in particular a newly elected Pope (the great Michel Piccoli) who has grave doubts about his abilities. Given its exposure in the Cannes competition it should have extra mileage in locations with a strong Catholic communities and associations.
Imagine if a new Pope had a crisis of confidence and went missing while his closest media aide staged a cover-up deep enough to dupe the journalists, the expectant thousands in St Peter's Square and even the inner circle of cardinals who elected him. Such is the deliciously promising premise delivered by Nanni Moretti in We Have a Pope, starring the great French actor Michel Piccoli as the papal candidate whose feelings of inadequacy paralyze him before he can even begin his duties.
Moretti plays the psychoanalyst brought in with great secrecy to uncover the root of the new Pope's anxieties. Watched closely by the cardinals he tries to use his trusted therapies to help him, but to no avail.
His advisers arrange for the Pope to be meet the psychoanalyst's estranged wife (Margherita Buy) who is also a psychoanalyst (the couple's professional jealousies were part of the reason for their split). During one of his clandestine sorties to visit her at her house, the Pope gives his aides the slip and wanders off.
Meanwhile, a subterfuge is concocted to disguise his disappearance. Moretti's character is banned from leaving the Vatican until matters are resolved and organizes such activities as a cardinals' card game as well as an international volleyball championship in the historic quadrangle to take their minds off the crisis. Watching men of the cloth leap around after a ball provides moments of genuine delight.
The reluctant Pope hooks up with a theatrical troupe undertaking a production of The Seagull. This prompts Moretti to ponder human frailty and out attempts to control our fate.
Piccoli in a role that relies on looks, gestures and very few words, does not hit an off note, making him into a silent, everyman figure.
Lushly shot and scored, with high production values and a recreation of the Sistine Chapel (created in Cinecittà studios), the 8 million euro production is Moretti's most expensive to date. With a blanket release on its home turf of 450 copies, clearly Moretti will be able to reach out to a wider domestic audience than usual.
With the satire finely balanced, ensuring there is nothing to offend religious sensibilities, he should perform a similar trick overseas.
Distributor: Sundance Selects
Cast: Michel Piccoli, Nanni Moretti, Renato Scarpa, Jerzy Stuhr, Franco Graziosi, Camillo Milli, Roberto Nobile, Margherita Buy
Director: Nanni Moretti
Screenwriters: Nanni Moretti, Francesco Piccolo, Federica Pontremoli
Producers: Nanni Moretti, Domenico Procacci, Jean Labadie
Genre: Comedy; Italian-language, subtitled
Running time: 104 min.
Release date: April 11 ltd.