105 minutes

Nanni Moretti's latest missive from dysfunctional Italy takes as its title the Latin pronouncement after a new pope has been chosen, which the actor/writer/director immediately sabotages by suggesting "no, we do not have a Pope" - as the newly-elected cardinal Melville (Michel Piccoli), a self-effacing man who has been elected as a compromise after the frontrunners failed to gain any advantage, breaks down and stalls the moment of accepting his job. No, we do not have a Pope for most of the length of Mr. Moretti's film, as Rome's finest psychiatrist (the director himself, in what is effectively a supporting role) is called in to treat the reluctant Holiness, and is kept a virtual prisoner in the premises along with all the other cardinals, while the unwilling Pope finds a way out and roams the city looking for guidance, whether human or divine.

     Despite what most people might expect, this is not an anti-religious tract - if anything, Mr. Moretti is debating the essence of religion as a connection between the human and the divine, but suggesting that the modern Catholic Church has lost track of its humanity - as much as it is a film about men on the verge of a nervous breakdown, swamped by the demands of their jobs in modern society, forced to perform a mask (or, more accurately a masque) for the benefit of the world outside. Whether this is Mr. Piccoli's confused but wise old man, Mr. Moretti's separated psychiatrist or the burnt-out actor unable to perform just his part in Tchekhov's The Seagull who Melville encounters on his walks out in the open, Habemus Papam asks how can we reconnect with our own selves when everything around us seems intent on blocking us from doing it. It's one of the director's central themes throughout his work (and there is the occasional throwback to earlier films, such as the constant references to Palombella Rossa's TV screens showing Doctor Zhivago), and he does so in the trademark Italian combination of raucous comedy and melancholy drama.

     That, however, is where Habemus Papam stops short of ranking with Mr. Moretti's greatest films: the film's two halves are out of balance. Mr. Piccoli's melancholy ramblings through Rome, trying to reconcile who he is with what he does, are pretty much choked by the riotous comedy of the conclave left behind in the Vatican, whose offhanded, smart gags pretty much drain away all the atmosphere the director successfully instils in its more serious, thoughtful complement. That doesn't make Habemus Papam a strike-out, merely a very good comedy that keeps up the tradition of classic Italian comedy Mr. Moretti has smartly updated throughout his career but falls short of being exceptional.

Starring Michel Piccoli, Nanni Moretti, Renato Scarpa, Jerzy Stuhr, Franco Graziosi; and with Margherita Buy.
     Director, Mr. Moretti; producers, Mr. Moretti and Domenico Procacci; written by Mr. Moretti, Francesco Piccolo, Federica Pontremoli; music, Franco Piersanti; director of photography (Cinecittà), Alessandro Pesci; production designer, Paola Bizzarri; costume designer, Lina Nerli Taviani; film editor, Esmeralda Calabria.
     A Nanni Moretti-Domenico Procacci presentation; a Sacher Film/Fandango/Le Pacte/France 3 Cinéma co-production in association with Rai Cinema; with the participation of Sofica Coficup, a Backup Films fund, Canal Plus, France Télévisions, French National Centre for Cinema and the Moving Image and Eurimages. (Italian distributors, 01 Distribution/Sacher Distribuzione. World sales, Fandango Portobello.)
     Screened: distributor advance press screening, UCI El Corte Inglés 11 (Lisbon), November 16th 2011. 


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