We Have a Pope
By Sr. Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.
In Italian director Nanni Moretti’s latest film a pope has
died and the cardinals are gathering for the consistory that will elect a new
pope. A television newsman tries to interview the cardinals but they ignore
him. His anxiety about being the first to announce a new pope mirrors the
apprehension that the cardinals feel inside the Sistine Chapel. At first the votes go toward the “papabili”,
that is, those that the odds makers are betting on to be elected. However as no
one name emerges, and various cardinals pray they will not be elected, an
unknown candidate is elected: Cardinal Manville (Michel Piccoli).
He is stunned and when the secretary of state, Cardinal
Gregori (Renato Scarpa) presses him repeatedly, “Do you accept?” Cardinal
Manville blurts out “Yes!” But his face tells a different story.
Just before the new pope is presented to the faithful in St.
Peter’s Square he refuses to greet the people.
Cardinal Gregori doesn’t know what to do; he is torn between presenting
the pope and caring for a man obviously in distress. The lay Vatican spokesman
(Jerzy Stuhr) begins to strategize about how to make sure the news of the new
pope’s ambivalence does not get out.
They call in a psychiatrist (Nanni Moretti) who thinks he is
“the best there is.” But Cardinal
Gregori will not let him speak to the pope in private and insists that he
interview the pope in front of all the cardinals. When this does not work the
spokesman accompanies the pope, in lay clothes, to the second best person in
Italy to deal with this, a psychoanalyst, the former wife (Margherita Buy) of
the psychiatrist. On his way to the
abbreviated motorcade, after meeting with the woman, the pope-in-waiting
disappears. He has just admitted to the psychoanalyst that he had really wanted
to be an actor when he was young,
This gentle man, who believes he has done some good in this
world, goes on a journey around Rome where no one knows who he is. He is met with
kindness, a man among many people from the world over. He encounters an acting
troupe that is performing Chekov’s “The Seagull” and seems to find peace at
Of course things do not end here.
When I interviewed the director/writer/actor Nanni Moretti
on the phone this week I asked him if
there was a subtext to his story, perhaps focusing on the human rather than the
divine in a papal election. Moretti said that this story is his story, that is,
the one he wanted to write, about a man who must reject his being the pope or
deny himself as a person. This protagonist in the film had to admit that he is
unable to represent all people, not able to accept the papacy and he does not
want to. “He prefers to go through his own crisis and face his own fragility
rather than be who he is not able to be.”
As for the very accessible humanity of most of the cardinals
in the film Moretti says, “If they are not human then who is?”
I asked Moretti if he was familiar with the life of Pope St.
Celestine V (1215-1296) who resigned the papacy, one of the reasons being “the
stubbornness of the people”. He replied that he knows the story but he also
read about all the recent popes who wrote about how they experienced indecision
and questioned their own ability to undertake the responsibility of the
papacy. Moretti said that the story of
Cardinal Manville, played to perfection by Michel Piccoli, is his own
imagination at work, the story he wanted to tell. This comes out of Moretti’s respect
for the cinema that “has the responsibility to create a new reality, not one
filled with jealousy, intrigue and plots in stories already told. “
Michel Piccoli is very believable as a man in conflict
trying to discern what he must do. Moretti, as the psychiatrist, brings humor
to the plot when he devises a regional volleyball tournament for the cardinals
to play as they wait for the pope to emerge. Of course, they think the pope is in his rooms praying; they don’t find out he is missing
until he is found.
“We Have a Pope” is about the interior struggle of a simple
man who wants to be honest to himself, the people, and God.
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