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Saturday, April 27, 2013

HABEMUS PAPAM / WE HAVE A POPE (2011)

Italian hyphenate Nanni Moretti (writer-director-actor-producer) has never quite had the Stateside breakthru he deserves, though THE SON’S ROOM/’01 came close, and this sketchy piece about a newly elected, doubt-ridden Pope did little to tip the scales. It starts well with lots of Vatican activity as red-robed Cardinals struggle to find the new Pope. There’s gentle, but pointed satire on the wall-to-wall media coverage and Moretti shows off a classicist’s film technique with beautifully designed & paced pomp as Vatican tradition unfurls with grand inevitability . . . and seamless editing. But then, new Pope Michel Piccoli throws a panic-attack, refuses to appear for the masses, and desperate Vatican administrators call in psychiatrist Moretti to handle his Holiness’s nervous breakdown. End of Act One. Quite a set-up. Only now, Moretti makes a wrong turn, one the film never recovers from. The Pope goes ‘walkabout’ in Rome trying to find himself (and it’s no ROMAN HOLIDAY/’53, alas), while back at the Vatican, unaware that the Pope is loose, everyone’s under a well-tended house arrest, killing time with cards & impromptu volleyball tournaments. No doubt, Moretti hoped to avoid the expected doctor/patient chats over religious, philosophical & cultural disputes; the sacred & profane boilerplate from an old DON CAMILLO ‘50s parable contrasting Catholicism vs. Communism. But his substitutions are no improvement as the Pope falls in with a theatrical troupe of Chekhov players and finds a new shrink who turns out to be Moretti’s wife (Margherite Buy). Maybe Moretti would be better off dropping a hyphenate or two.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT:: Some of Moretti’s best work has never gotten Stateside video release. (Admittedly, his political films probably don't travel.) But keep an eye out for LA MESSA È FINITA (THE MASS IS OVER)/’85 which shows him at his considerable best.

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