Review of "Habemus Papam" (We have a Pope) - 2011

Language - Italian
Genre - Drama, Comedy
Release - 2010

Nanni Moretti's Habemus Papam (We have a Pope)

Habemus Papam (We have a Pope) was one of the most talked about movies at the 2011 Cannes Film festival. Critics called it bold, controversial, challenging, incendiary and also smart, among other things. There's no doubt about the efficacy of such publictiy in evoking public's interest in a motion picture. But as I sat through this delightfully comical film with a touch of satire, from one of the most respected names in Italian Cinema Nanni Moretti, I was left perplexed if I was watching the same film. Or maybe it's because I don't adequately comprehend the religious sensibilities of the general public as envisioned by these popular and esteemed critics. 

Nanni Moretti as a psychoanalyst in 'Habemus Papam'After all, is it really controversial to show a pope getting stage-fright after getting elected or seeing the ageing bishops and cardinals, who are members of the conclave, indulging in normal human activities such as playing a game of volleyball or having the inquisiteness of knowing what their respective odds were of being elected, as published by the bookmakers in England before the election. Michel Piccoli stars as cardinal Melville, the pope-elect (much to his surprise), and starts having performance anxeity moments before stepping out on the balcony to address a huge gathering of faithfuls. But the Vatican needs him to overcome his apprehensions and announce his appointment as the most powerful religious figure in the world, to the public at large. 

Nanni Moretti and Micel Piccoli in 'Habemus Papam'Realizing that the problems is more of the mind than anything physical, the vatican decides to invite a leading psycho-analyst (played by Nanni Moretti) for examining the pope. But he's rather helpless as the Pope cannot divulge details of his dreams, childhood issues or his sexual fantasies. Nanni Moretti seems natural as a professional who also happens to be a non-believer and hence doesn't seem to share the overwhelming reverence that the faithfuls have for the great cardinals and Bishops, and the Pope himself. In many ways, Nanni Moretti wants to have the public share the same outlook about the sacred Vatican traditions and it's revered members, as his psychoanalyst character has (and probably his own 'real' self).

Micel Picolli as Cardinal Melville in Habemus Papam
But the burden of Habemus Papam really rests on the veteran actor Micel Piccoli. Unfortunately, his performance is largely limited to moments of contemplation, panic attacks or shell-shocked expressions. Despite the screen time, his character continues to remain a mystery and Moretti fails to provide a insightful first person perspective into the insecurities, anxieties or the aspirations of the newly-elected Pope. At the end though, despite the bold and somewhat shocking finale, this is really a charming and harmless comedy that dares to portray the Pope as a vulnerable human being. Habemus Papam treads a little too cautiously so as not to offend, or infringe on the sanctity of the Catholic church and the Pope, making it fall desperately short of being truly acknowledged as a path-breaking film.