Saturday, 14 May 2011

Cannes Day 3: Habemus Papam

Palme winner Nanni Moretti (The Son’s Room) is back! His latest film, Habemus Papam (We Have A Pope), is being described as a Papal King’s Speech.
And yet I’m not sure I fully agree. Sure, the film features a leader in question who doesn’t quite feel up to the job, but the Vatican version has a much different tone and pace than its royal rival.
The film begins with the cardinals entering Conclave, which is the oldest form of electing a leader in history. When a Pope dies, extant cardinals must decide in a two-thirds majority their new Pope. So, after an initial failed attempt at finding a successor, the Conclave gives the Papacy to Cardinal Melville.
The smoke burns white. “Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum” (I announce to you a great joy), the announcement begins on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica. “Habemus Papam!”

The world doesn’t know who yet, though.
Suddenly, screams emerge from inside, and the film turns into Grabemus Papam. Melville’s on the lam, with his handler in pursuit, running away from his Divine responsibilities to figure out his issues. He doesn’t want to be the Pope, and his election victory is still unknown to the world. So is the fact that he’s a runaway.
At this point, the remaining Cardinals are sequestered in the Vatican, as ancient law requires them to stay until the election (and announcement to the world) is complete. This is where the film begins to shine, and also begins to veer away from comparisons with The King’s Speech. A good chunk of the movie doesn’t even involve Melville, but a comedic portrait of the bored and cranky cardinals. They play cards, they crack jokes, and they even set up an international volleyball tournament to try and entertain a Pope they think is still in house. It’s all actually quite funny though, if perhaps a little too long in certain scenes. A few cardinals steal the show with their adorable (and quite withered) facial expressions, and it’s hard not to chuckle at a flock of cardinals wearing volleyball jerseys.
In The King’s Speech, George VI doesn’t run away from his problems – he tries to fix them. Melville’s attempts at resolving his inner conflicts with psychiatry seem half-hearted, as if it’s too late.  This continues the tone of a darker and more depressing view of what it would be like to have so much power over the millions of faithful, and as such, Meville actually gives a much more “human” portrait than Tom Hooper’s Oscar gold. In total, the film is both cute and hilarious; honest and reflective.
I’m not one to call a winner (especially with more than a dozen Competition films left to be screened) but what the hell.
Habemus Palmum!

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