Harvey Critic - 16/03

WE HAVE A POPE (Habemos Papam)

As an actor, Michel Piccoli is one of the world's gems with a resume stretching back to 1954. But there is little he can do to rescue a film about upper levels of the Catholic Church that is devoid of bite and that uses forced humor such as the idea that (tee hee) even Cardinals may want a cappuccino and even a college stacked with men who'd consider a seventy-year-old member to be a kid can play and love volleyball. And oh, a panel of nuns sitting on the sidelines are cheering their favorite teams, wow!

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WE HAVE A POPE (Habemos Papam)
Sundance Selects

Reviewed for Arizona Reporter by Harvey Karten

Grade: C
Director: Nanni Moretti
Screenwriter: Nanni Moretti, Francesco Piccolo
Cast: Michel Piccoli, Jerzy Stuhr, Renato Scarpa, Franco Graziosi
Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 3/1/12
Opens: April 6, 2012

Folks like me who live in the New York area might be particularly keen to buy tickets for this film given that our own Timothy Dolan has just been elected cardinal. Yet, the repetitions and the forced attempts at humor are more likely to make an audience squirm .

The story finds one hundred eight members of the College of Cardinals assembling in the Vatican following the death of the last Pope, who is carried away in a plain wooden coffin. As the balloting goes on and the black smoke is emitted from the chimney indicating "we don't yet have a winner," the members of the College are compelled to turn to a dark horse, someone, we're told by a psychoanalyst, had a 90-1 chance of being elected. Though the new pope (Michel Piccoli) hesitates at the swearing-in, he does affirm that he accepts the judgment of the College, but just before he walks to the balcony to deliver an address to the multitudes assembled (obviously a file film unless the producers spent money for a thousand extras), he screams and retreats. He does not feel ready to accept the job. If so, why does he say "Yes?" And given that all cardinals were once preachers tending to congregations, then bishops and archbishops with greater responsibilities, why should the top job be a problem?

The bewildered and embarrassed clergy bring in a psychotherapist (director, co-writer Nanni Moretti) to find out whether the new pope's mama may have rejected him giving him "parental deficit," with Moretti's milking the scene with the less-than-funny set-up that finds all the cardinals sitting in on the therapeutic session. The pope bolts, losing his chief handler (Jerzy Stuhr), dons civilian clothes, mixes with the real people rather than those who are the equivalent in the U.S. of The Beltway, and gains insight into his own life by watching a production of Chekhov's "The Seagull." Meanwhile the psychotherapist sets the cardinals up in a volleyball game meant to cheer up the pope, who is supposed to be across the street in his apartment but is occupied by a member of the Swiss Guard instructed to impersonate the Pontiff.

Does he return, full of new confidence, to wrap himself in papal garments? Do we care?

Unrated. 104 minutes © 2012 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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