Review: We have a pope

Directed by Nanni Moretti. Starring Michel Piccoli, Nanni Moretti, Jerzy Stuhl, Renato Scarpa, Margherita Buy. Italian with subtitles. 104 mins ***

Hidden away in the Vatican and forbidden contact with the outside world, the Papal Conclave has chosen a rank outsider, Melville (Piccoli), to be the new Pope. But when it comes time for him to address the waiting faithful in the Square he has some kind of breakdown and refuses to go out.

Until he accepts the role none of the cardinals in the conclave are allowed to leave. They are joined by a psychoanalyst (Moretti) who is brought in to try and treat the Pope, but then finds that he too is stuck in the Vatican until the issue is resolved.

You’d assume that this comedy drama is heading towards a match up between the faltering man of God and the atheist man of sort-of-science. But after a single encounter the two head off down the separate and contrasting path with Piccoli taking custody of the drama and Moretti left holding the comedy.

The veteran Piccoli, who now resembles a slightly more forgiving Alistair Sim, holds up his end of the deal. He brings all his considerable screen presence to scenes of him reflecting over his life’s regrets and disappointments. Back at the Vatican though Moretti struggles to give us anything of out of the ordinary. Many years ago Dave Allen showed us that Catholic priests are funny in almost situation and Moretti gets some laughs from having men in the red costumes do some unexpected sporting activities.

But it’s thin stuff really. Moretti, famous for Dear Diary and The Son’s Room, is one of Italy’s leading film makers and humourists but his scenes aren’t as amusing as he seems to think they are. There isn’t any great connection between the two stories but Piccoli just about edges it into the positive.