Monday, July 16, 2012

We Have a Pope

The first mistake of Nanni Moretti’s We Have a Pope may have been its decision to turn the College of Cardinals into something more akin to a seminary summer camp. How successful can a satire be when populated by such an innocuous bunch of clowns? A gaggle of grey-haired sorority sisters, the Cardinals caper about with a giggly, carefree air (it’s a wonder we don’t see them braiding each other’s hair while reading out Cosmo quizzes, although perhaps that’s too flippant for Moretti’s mildly impudent worldview). Dreamy and dumbstruck, they lean on the balustrade and stare up at the shuttered windows of their absent leader, mooning away like a group of teenage girls with pictures of Justin Bieber on their bedroom ceilings. And where is the pope? He’s hiding from the burden of his duties, roaming the Roman streets as he ponders what his psychiatrist could have meant when she told him he had a “parental deficit.” (Hint: look in the mirror, padre.)

So the pope rejects his role and the film its better instincts; an idea that surely sounded promising on the page takes on the form of its doddering, gutless subjects. What comedy there is to be found here suffers from the disjointed tone and lousy timing—too slow for farce, too quick for deadpan—which leaves the gags to fizzle out in the musty, tomb-like atmosphere cultivated by Moretti. Mostly, the film limps by with mild irreverence its only sustaining crutch. The director seems altogether too pleased with his boldness in showing the powerful inner circle of the Catholic church playing volleyball and whining about espresso (easy on the froth, by the way). Rather than tackle the fraught subject of Catholicism in the 21st century head-on, Moretti opts for the mushy middle-road. He inadvertently pays respect to the rituals of the church even as his blithe depiction of the institution argues that all of this is of little consequence. The film achieves its greatest subversion in its own irrelevance.

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