My first selection from the 2011 Lavazza Italian Film Festival is Nanni Moretti’s Habemus Papam (We Have a Pope).
After the death of the current Pope, the cardinals descend upon the Vatican City to select a new Holy Father to lead the Catholic Church. They are led into a big hall when they cast their ballots while anxious believers wait outside. When Cardinal Melville is selected to be the new pontiff, he suffers a mental breakdown. Just when the senior Cardinal Deacon announces “Habemus Papam!” (We have a Pope!) from the balcony, the new pontiff releases a cry and says that he can’t do it – leaving the cardinals bewildered. Those waiting below are also confused as the name of the new Pope isn’t announced and that the Pope doesn’t give any speech nor blessings. The newly elected Pope, wonderfully acted by Michel Piccoli, then escapes the clutch of the bodyguard and the Holy See’s spokesperson to mingle with the people outside while trying to reconcile his new calling with his feelings of inadequacy and insecurity. What ensues is a wonderfully tender comedy of this fictionally sensitive incidence. Nanni Moretti, whose movie La Stanza del Figlio (The Son’s Room) I also enjoyed, also acts in this movie as the psychoanalyst who is enlisted to help the new Pope. His role in this movie is almost like a bystander, an outsider brought in to witness the confusion and the sense of trust that the Cardinals put upon the new Pope.
Habemus Papam delightfully portrays the situation where the calling that we have upon our life seems too big and too impossible to handle. There are two scenes that leave their mark – when the ballots are prepared in the silent room, the Cardinals’ thoughts are suddenly made audible – and rather than praying for God to call them, one after the other cries out, “Please, not I, Lord! Not I! I can’t do it.” Men of faith can feel vulnerable too. The next scene is when the new Pope meets a psychoanalyst on the “outside” and because he can’t tell anybody about his new role (as it has not been announced formally to the public), he describes himself as an ‘actor’, who enjoys the premieres and the theatrical activities. There are some philosophical discussions that can be developed from that scene alone.
I find the movie very interesting – although Nanni shows the sincerity and faith that the Cardinals have and on the complexity and the gravity of such calling, he does not really understand the essence of faith. It’s like somebody watching from the outside and trying to figure out what is inside by only watching through the window. The ending, which I find very brave and interesting on one hand, unfortunately also dismisses the notion of Godly appointment and interference in such a situation. However, all in all, a good thought-provoking movie about a complex, sensitive issue!