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September 12, 2011 | by  | in Arts Film |
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Habemus Papam

The Roman Catholic Church is a pretty easy target for satire these days, what with the numerous scandals plaguing the Vatican and their futile attempts at covering them up.

Given that, it’s to Nanni Moretti’s credit that his latest film doesn’t go with the easy targets—the satire at the heart of Habemus Papam is far more nuanced and intelligent than taking broad pot-shots at the church’s paedophilic priests and damaging stance on condoms in Africa. Indeed, it’s all the better for not dwelling on the problems we already know.
With Habemus Papam, Moretti, an ardent left-wing activist and one of Italy’s most popular filmmakers, tells the story of Cardinal Melville (played by veteran Italian actor Michel Piccoli), an old, genial Italian voted to the Papacy by his peers, all of whom don’t want the job. Terrified by the gravity of his new office, Melville refuses to take to the balcony and greet his flock, leaving it to his fellow Cardinals to try and help him out of his rut. The film’s greatest asset is Piccoli, who gives an outstanding performance as the doubt-ridden Pope. Piccoli gets to the heart of Melville’s anxieties with warmth and good humour, presenting a portrait of a man struggling to reconcile the demands of his office with the knowledge that he is no different from the millions of Catholics he’s been elected to lead.

Piccoli’s performance, in many ways, ties the film together, but it isn’t strong enough to hold together an increasingly meandering second half. Moretti splits the story in two, dedicating equal time to Melville’s adventures on the streets of Rome as he tries to resolve his issues and to the travails of a psychoanalyst (played with altogether too much bluster by Moretti) trapped in the Vatican after being brought in to treat Melville. While there is light comedy and good-natured satire to be had in the image of cardinals playing volleyball like schoolchildren, it feels like a diversion from the main event and goes on for far too long in the scheme of things. Ultimately, however, Habemus Papam is a well-measured and astute dramedy that manages to undermine the Vatican by making the Pope and his cardinals seem human. *

Habemus Papam will be screening at the Italian Film Festival. The Festival will be running from 12 October until 30 October at the Paramount Cinema. For more details, see italianfilmfestival.co.nz

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