Sunday, March 11, 2012

Talk Cinema: We Have a Pope

Usually, the roughly-monthly Talk Cinema series is hosted by a local film critic; this time around, it was hosted by the man who runs the program (which also occurs in other cities and puts together travel packages to film festivals), and... Well, it was a bit of a different experience. He'd seen Habemus Papam at Cannes and seemed to have really fallen for it despite the fact that his fellow critics didn't seem to love it. It seems to have made him determined and defensive on the subject, with the post-film discussion not quite becoming a lecture, but very much shaped by his opinion all the same. It's one I wasn't quite able to share; as I say in the review, it has real, massive problems of execution despite a premise with great possibility.

(Of course, the Q&A and latter half of the movie also had the accidental soundtrack of the Lord of the Rings marathon going on downstairs as part of the Viggo Mortensen tribute. I kind of feel sorry for the people who were seeing silent movie The Artist or frequently-still movie The Secret World of Arrietty later!)

As I say in the review, it's a shame. I'm not Catholic - far from it, I'm so far from religious that I tend to describe it as being superstitious - but as the movie starts, I did kind of find myself fascinated by the dynamic of organized religion. I can sort of get believing in God, but how that translates into giving a small group of old men in funny hats (and how ridiculous is it in the twenty-first century that the leadership is still all male?) such tremendous power and influence with any sort of transparency or checks on their power?

It's strange to me, but still intriguing, enough so that I wish this movie was able to skewer the whole situation and process much more effectively.

We Have a Pope (Habemus Papam)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 4 March 2012 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #2 (Talk Cinema, 35mm)

While many films lack even one original, interesting idea, Habemus Papam has at least two at its heart. Quite possibly three, and maybe even four if you're feeling very generous. Nanni Moretti gets fairly far by sharing his curiosity about the papal election process and what might happen if it hit a snag with the audience; he just seems to wind up adrift when it comes time to make a real story out of it.

The process of the Catholic Church selecting a new pope is shrouded in mystery; the college of cardinals not only sequesters themselves, but burns all records of their voting and all notes kept during the deliberations. The faithful (and press) massed outside the Vatican have an idea of who is likely to be chosen, and very few expect it to be Cardinal Melville (Michel Piccoli), who has more humility than ambition. It is him, though, and just as the smoke changes color and "habemus papam" is announced from the traditional balcony, the new leader has a panic attack and refuses to address his flock. The church finds itself at an impasse, with the layman administrator (Jerzy Stuhr) bringing in a noted professor of psychiatry (Nanni Moretti) before trying more desperate measures.

To give it its due, it starts out with the right actor in the right part - Michel Piccoli is the perfect man to play Father Melville. At first, he certainly looks like just another old man in a room full of old men, but a closer look shows an almost youthfully open heart and lack of guile. Melville must be utterly deserving but also terrified at the responsibility he's been entrusted with. Piccoli is able to sell the cardinal as somebody that anyone can approach and trust but also seemingly out of place in every situation he's placed into. That paradox is at the heart of the character and the movie - the things that make Melville the person one would want as Pope also make him terrified of the job - and Piccoli embodies the role wonderfully.

Full review at EFC.

1 comment:

Celebrities said...

What a wonderful film. Shame that it didn't get more recognition in Cannes. Cloaked in humor, this is nonetheless a serious look at a religious leader's internal quest for personal truth. The humility shown is precisely what the Church needs, but... it's merely a film... Michel Piccolli at his very best!