Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Pope as human? Amazing

We Have a Pope, which opened last week at The Main in Royal Oak, is nowhere near the hilarious comedy that might have been expected at least from the trailer. But we know how trailers can be! Yes, it’s billed as a comedy. But the humour comes in brief moments and at unexpected times. Director Nanni Moretti (this year’s Cannes jury president, by the way) has welded together a slightly surreal comedy with a serious meditation on individual psychology and choice. The scene is the College of Cardinals to elect a new pope. The movie opens humorously enough, with a doofus TV reporter trying to grab a comment from one of the passing procession of solemn cardinals, and then asking the Vatican PR guy if his cameraman can catch a “long shot of the Sistine Chapel.” As the cardinals take their seats the lights unexplainably go out. (The movie is full of these unexpected whimsical moments.) When they come back on it’s time to vote, and various conclave members' thoughts are revealed, hoping they are not the one chosen as the pontiff. As a former seminarian told me, “That’s probably true.” When Cardinal Melville (Michel Piccoli, one of France’s most seasoned elite actors) is chosen, he walks to the ceremonial balcony where he will greet the world. At the last minute he can’t go further and turns away, to the shock of the entourage. What follows is an attempt by the Vatican to delay the announcement, telling the public that Il Papa needs time for reflection before the grand announcement. His name is still under wraps. The Vatican spokesman is played to a T by Polish actor and director Jerzy Stuhr, who turns out to be more concerned for his own credibility with the media than resolving Melville’s psychological crisis. On a jaunt out of Vatican City to see another therapist Melville disappears and goes on a several-day wander, walking incognito through the city, eventually meeting up with a group of actors, with whom he most identifies. Meanwhile, back at the Vatican the cardinals kill time by playing cards and, bizarrely (and this is where a touch of the surreal comes in) engage in a volleyball tournament organized by their psychiatrist-for-hire and played by the film’s director. Another surreal scene takes place when Il Papa is discovered. He then returns to the Vatican... The film has good performances all around. The scenes of the conclave are magnificent for setting and capturing the physical demeanor of these elders of the church. This movie really isn’t mockery of the Catholic Church unless you consider deconstructing the pope’s image to that of a human being to be. The film really shouldn't offend anyone.

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