Nanni Moretti, the Italian film director, is often compared to Woody Allen because he writes, directs, and acts in his films, and his films sometimes feature psychiatrists who explore the characters’ inner lives. There is also a fair amount of humor in both filmmakers’ work.
However, the tone of Moretti’s movies is more philosophical and his scripts tend to wander around. Woody Allen carefully constructs screenplays that tell stories. His dialogue propels the action. Moretti explores what happens inside of us in slow, more patient ways.
In We Have a Pope, we get a chance to explore the inner life of the pope. What would it be like to be elected to a position so overwhelming that once you had accepted it you realized you couldn’t possibly live up to it. What if as a result a whole religion was put on hold, not to mention the body of cardinals who were stuck in house prison, in their unending conclave, until the situation was cleared up.
Nanni Moretti plays the psychiatrist who is brought in to help with the situation. Lest the movie seem like a cross between Runaway Bride and Waiting for Godot, the psychiatrist decides to organize the cardinals into teams (one for each continent) and coach them to play a volleyball tournament. The casting is excellent. Michel Piccoli looks like a pope. His surrogate, a Swiss Guard, hired to move the curtains about in the illusion that the pope is near at hand, is great fun to watch as he eats the pope’s food and enjoys other perks of the job.
The cardinals all look like cardinals. The costumes and sets are gorgeous, but the Catholic Church has excelled at those things for hundreds of years.
There are moments of sublime surprise, many having to do with Chekhov’s The Seagull. This play within a play helps us understand the melancholy of Moretti’s vision almost more than anything else.