Religion is never an easy topic to center a film around, especially not when it comes to the Catholic Church, which can sometimes be considered a punching bag for religious-themed media (but not undeservedly at times, considering how the actions of some in the denomination do taint the reputation of the church) – but sometimes, we get a film about religion that isn’t on either end of the extreme spectrum – it isn’t preachy, nor is it meant to make people feel guilty or angry. Those films can be rare, but they do exist, which is evident in my recent discovery of We Have a Pope, a quirky little Italian film that tells the story of a side of religion we don’t really see.
The film is set after the pope dies. A new pope is then elected – he is Cardinal Melville (Michel Piccoli), a shy and insecure cardinal who isn’t entirely sure he wants to be in religion overall, nevermind being the head of the Catholic Church. He is terrified and overwhelmed with the idea of the responsibility of being a pope just before his proclamation. He is able to escape his responsibility for a few brief days while the Vatican City tries to cover up the fact that the new pope is not entirely as holy and wise as he is supposed to be. The film is told through the eyes of two people – Melville, who is one of the most likable protagonists I’ve come across, and Brezzi (Nanni Moretti, who serves as writer and director of the film as well), the psychiatrist brought in to counsel the pope, but gets trapped among the cardinals, as Vatican law states that until he newly-elected pope appears on the balcony to greet the crowd, the election is not entirely over, and no contact with the outside world can be made. The two men need to come to terms with new worlds and experiences – Melville, with the outside world where people just see him as an old man, and not the most powerful religious figure in the world, and Brezzi, with the stringent and strict world the cardinals dedicate themselves to.
We Have a Pope really surprised me – from the description, it sounds like a very bland (but still interesting) drama about religion, faith and the Catholic church. The delivery, however, was quite different. While still making some very serious observations about the church and religion as a whole, it is incredibly funny throughout. There are some very funny moments in the film, and never once do you worry that they are treading on thin ice and making religion and religious people seem like fools. Moretti have utmost respect for the religion, and he finds comedy in the most unexpected places, including an entire act dedicated to the cardinals having a volleyball tournament where teams are organized by nationalities of the cardinals. It is a fun, refreshing little look at the life of the cardinals in a way that is never insulting, but instead just wonderfully quirky.
I loved We Have a Pope. Much like Calvary, it is a darkly funny look at religion in a new way that doesn’t put the blame on anyone, nor does it really remark on real-life events in a meaningful way (although We Have a Pope does foreshadow the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI in a very eerie way) and it is just a unique little foreign language film that shows the talent lurking outside of mainstream cinema and in other countries. I definitely adored We Have a Pope, and I definitely think it is a unique and original piece of cinema that tells the story of the people we don’t really think have too much going on in their lives. I thought it was an amazing film, and definitely one of the best little films I’ve seen in a while.