Given Nanni Moretti’s track record as writer, director, and actor, there is every reason to have high hopes for his latest effort, We Have a Pope. One would presume that a behind-the-scenes look at the process of naming a new Pontiff would provide ample fodder for observational humor. Instead, the film focuses on the chosen man’s crisis of confidence. Since that man is played by the great Michel Piccoli, this idea, too, offers great promise.
Piccoli has played all kinds of characters in his long career, from the Everyman to King Lear. It’s no surprise, then, that he is ideal as a cardinal who is paralyzed with fright when his Vatican colleagues choose him as the new Pope. His efforts to confront his own fears as he wanders around Rome, meeting various people who have no idea who he is, supply the film’s wittiest and most satisfying moments. Even at the age of 86, Piccoli remains a master of nuance.
Moretti costars as a psychoanalyst who is called in to examine the Pontiff-elect and then forced to remain behind the Vatican walls until the situation is resolved. His first scene is amusing, after which his character becomes aimless and ultimately pointless.
Like that figure played by the filmmaker, We Have a Pope starts well, and offers a credible look at life amongst the College of Cardinals. Jerzy Stuhr is excellent as the official Vatican spokesman, whose diplomacy and patience are strained to the breaking point by the awkwardness of a new Pope who refuses to acknowledge his appointment to a waiting world.
I could forgive a great deal of a film that allows me to spend quality time with Michel Piccoli, but the resolution of the story is so unsatisfying that I came away frustrated and annoyed. We Have a Pope is a profound disappointment.