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Home Reviews LFF 2011 LFF Review: We Have a Pope
LFF Review: We Have a Pope Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Tuesday, 25 October 2011 11:51
We Have a Pope LFF review nanni moretti
Director: Nanni Moretti
Cast: Nanni Moretti, Francesco Piccolo, Michel Piccoli

Thanks to mass media coverage (and Angels & Demons), we all know how a new Pope is elected. (It doesn't involve Ewan McGregor and a helicopter.) First, the conclave begins, cutting cardinals off from the world while they vote for a successor. Then, the burning of the ballot papers to mark the successful ordaining of his new Holiness. Then, everyone plays volleyball. In slow-motion.

At least, that's what happens in Nanni Moretti's take on events. Journalists line the walls of the Vatican treating the ceremony like a celebrity event. Cardinals tap their pens and try to copy other people's answers while praying not to be chosen. And once Michel Piccoli's Pope has been elected, he walks up to the balcony, ready to give a blessing to the hordes gathered outside, then he screams, sits down and has a nervous breakdown.

An absurdist religious satire, We Have a Pope is the kind of film you could imagine Luis Buñuel making if he were still alive. The Pope running panicked through the ancient corridors bawling his eyes out? Why not? It's not half as silly as when a psychoanalyst (Moretti himself) is brought in to cure His Holiness. "Can I talk about sex?" "No." "Unfulfilled desires?" "Definitely not." Trapped within the walls of the city until the Pope is cured, the professor comes up with a way to keep himself entertained: he arranges a sports tournament.

At times a serious theological study of one man's wavering faith, Piccoli's conflicted cardinal is a sympathetic figure. He's a sad, lost man, who gives the film its emotional resonance. Eventually, he escapes from the shadow of Saint Peter's, shambling around on buses and strolling through the streets like a hobo. He's clearly not coming back for a while. So the Vatican do the obvious thing: they get someone to walk up and down his apartment, rustling the curtains and pretending to eat his Papal food.

It's oddly believable. Moretti crafts a natural descent into madness that mocks the Catholic Church in a hilariously provocative way. In his efforts to draw out the humour to the extreme, Moretti drops the ball in the second half and events start to drag, but for the majority of its runtime, and at the belatedly punchy ending, We Have a Pope is a shrewdly observed slice of silliness that speaks volumes about the chaos of organised religion. Plus it has the best game of Vatican volleyball you'll ever see.


  • francesco piccolo
  • lff
  • london film festival
  • michel piccoli
  • nanni moretti
  • we have a pope