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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

"Habemus Papam" - We Have a Pope - or do we? Inside the Conclave with Nanni Moretti

We have a Pope - "Habemus Papam" - is Nanni Moretti's prescient 2011 film, released in the U.S. last year.

The newly elected Pope in Moretti's film has a crisis of conscience and confidence (to put it mildly) and spends days deciding if he will even greet the public after the white smoke puffs come out of the Sistine Chapel and after the head of the Conclave announces to the crowds gathered in St. Peter's square "Habemus Papam" or "we have a Pope."  The elected one here is a dark horse choice (in fact, 90:1 per the odds-makers, Moretti's film later tells us) when no one else even wants the job.  "Lord, don't pick me!" is the common prayer of the cardinals.

Moretti's film seems to take us right to today, as the cardinals proceed into the Sistine Chapel (while a pushy newsman, remarkably like Geraldo Rivera, attempts to interview them).  In the backdrop of the Sistine Chapel (recreated for the film), and particularly the entire wall covered by Michelangelo's Last Judgment (no sloppy choice of walls here), the cardinals write out their ballots like high schoolers, peaking at one another's votes.

Michel Piccoli as the just-elected, and
totally shocked, Pope
The first 20 minutes of this quiet film will give you as close a feeling as you can get to what the Conclave must be like.

I won't do a spoiler alert for the film, but will say it has many comic moments - the cardinals playing volleyball on geographically determined teams (underrepresented Oceania only has 3 cardinals), under the supervision of the psychiatrist - played by Moretti - brought in to help the Pope get up his gumption; the Swiss Guard ordered to stand in for the Pope, gorging in the Pope's apartments while the Pope is MIA.  And the film grabs us with the Pope's wistfulness at the life he could have had - as an actor, quoting Chekhov with an actor's troupe, and multilingual, recalling Pope John Paul II.   The last speech of this just-elected Pope sounds like it's out of Benedict's mouth in 2013.
Swiss Guards under the Last Judgment in
Habemus Papam

Television crews are set up at the end of via della
Conciliazione facing St. Peter's - part of the Pope watch
The film takes some odd turns and has some puzzling moments, perhaps one reason it hasn't been rated as highly as some of Moretti's other films.  "The Son's Room" won the Cannes Palme d'Or in 2001; Moretti won Best Director at Cannes for his 1994 Caro Diario ("Dear Diary"), and he chaired last year's Cannes jury.  Habemus Papam has been reproached for not being critical enough of the church (Moretti is a leftist and an atheist), or not being comedic enough.  And it has been praised, with good reason, for the magnificent performance of Michel Piccoli as the Pope-in-waiting or the Pope who keeps us waiting.

Piccoli was a leadingman of French noir and has appeared in more than 200 roles .  We just this week saw him in the 1971 Claude Sautet Max et les Ferrailleurs ("Max and the Junkmen") at our local Tarantino-owned theater.  Now 85, Piccolo's performance alone is worth watching the film.  All criticisms taken, I just watched Habemus Papam again, and found it even more compelling against today's news than I did when I saw it a year ago.

Crowds in St. Peter's square in 2005, awaiting news of
a new Pope
Habemus Papam is now available on Netflix, Amazon, Amazon instant video, etc.  To get yourself in the mood for this Conclave, rent or buy it now.  In Italian with English subtitles.

We were in Rome when John Paul II died and Benedict XVI was elected.  Those 2005 photos give a feel for what Pope-watching is like in Rome.

Another Rome tidbit - The Palazzo Farnese filled in for the Vatican for much of the film. These days, it's almost the only way you can see the Palazzo, which houses the French embassy in central Rome.

View from St. Peter's square back
to the TV stands at the end of
via della Conciliazione (the bright


Crowds watching an outdoor screen set against the Coliseum
for Pope John Paul II's funeral in 2005

Crowds in Circo Massimo, with the Palatine Forum in the
background, large screens and speakers set up for
Pope John Paul II's funeral in 2005

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