What happens after the Pope at the Vatican dies? In ‘We Have A Pope’ (Habemus Papam), we are given a much-detailed peek at the conclave of Cardinals who congregate to vote for the next Pope. Directed by Nanni Moretti, a known political film maker who has taken jabs at the Catholic Church in his previous works, ‘We Have A Pope’ still takes jabs but this time, it’s surprisingly funny.
When Pope John Paul II dies, the opening credits of ‘We Have A Pope’ bombard us with news images of his funeral, the mourners, and the next move of the Vatican. The Cardinals isolate themselves from the world within the Sistine Chapel to choose who will succeed the late Pope. This is a very important vote and the one to be chosen will have great power and equally great responsibility – he is the leader of the Catholic Church, after all.
But already, most of the Cardinals fret being picked, some don’t even write down a name unless they copy it from the one seated next to them, and the one who was chosen – Melville (Michel Piccoli) – is not ready for it. Upon being told to greet the Catholics on the balcony as their new Pope, Melville actually freaks out. What to do? A Vatican solution for a distraught Pope? Have him meet a psychiatrist (played by director Moretti) who just happens to be an atheist!
The laughs in ‘We Have A Pope’ are organic enough that at times you forget that its director is actually making you cringe at the rituals, spectacle, and practices of the Catholic Church just to elect its next spiritual leader. It also humanizes the Vatican; most of us see it as this historic and religious entity, a small country and theocracy in itself, and the site for unexpected pageantry (those red and white vestments are quite eye-catching and fashionable), but ‘We Have A Pope’ will reiterate that it’s still run by human beings. The film even shows us that priests take their volleyball tournaments seriously.
‘We Have A Pope’ isn’t blasphemous; even Catholics can be funny.
Reviewed by Melissa Orcine, Cinema Paradiso