Wednesday, 13 June 2012

We Have a Pope



It is not all that often that I have such a mixture of conflicted feelings at the end of a film. Habemus Papam, or in English, We Have a Pope,  is a very unusual film. At times it seemed like it would become the kind of warm, humanistic comedy that made me love another pope film back in 1986 - Saving Grace. But that is definitely not where this film headed. 

There are brilliant and moving scenes in this film and there are points when it bogs down and gets very confusing - and yet that all together seems to be the point. I may be giving director Nanni Moretti too much credit, but I think the wandering confusion of some middle sections are probably quite intentional. There is a lot of lostness in this film. 

 I suspect one would have to be very deeply acquainted with the Checkhov play called The Seagull in order to understand some of that middle complexity. I was completely unfamiliar with this play, but learned from some internet browsing that, like the film, it has themes of acting and lostness. If a deep knowledge of this play doesn't open up depths of understanding in the confusing bits of the movie, then some mistakes were definitely made in the making of this film - however, I'll give the film the benefit of the doubt on this score.

What I was left with after this film was a deep lament on the lack of leadership in the world today. We have structured things in such a way that leadership often comes with a loss of personhood and real relationship. When Cardinal Melville is chosen pope (and interestingly he doesn't question the authority of the process), he realises that everyone he knew quickly began to disappear. When a psychoanalyst (Moretti himself) is called in to help, he is not allowed to discuss the pope's childhood or mother, sex, dreams, and he is not even allowed to know his patient's name. And this is no quick condemnation of religion in favour of secular psychology. The psychoanalysts don't accomplish much of anything even if they do offer some interesting perspectives. 

Catholic response has been fairly muted - they allowed parts to be filmed in the Vatican - all in spite of rather deft but scathing critique. What seems to make that devastating critique palatable is the very human warmth with which all the characters are portrayed. The people in charge are surprisingly kind and patient. The cardinals are very human and allowed some childlike and childish fun. Even the dopey reporter who is mocked is mocked with some degree of kindness. This is a world of very human characters looking for some direction but forced to confront the possibility that there might not be any direction coming. And humility is not a quick fix. Satisfying: no; potent: yes. ***

1 comment:

  1. I finally saw this film, on the day the new pope was elected (largely coincidence). I think I enjoyed the film more than you did, but I agree with your review. Besides thinking I was missing something due to my ignorance of Checkhov's play (is it that well known that we should feel a little embarrassed by our ignorance?), the thing that most bothered me was the psychoanalyst, who made me want to scream half the time (I suppose that is intended and that he's supposed to be funnier than I thought he was). Still, I did enjoy the film and would also give it a solid ***.

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