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Movie Review: We Have a Pope

This tale of papal succession is good-looking but empty-headed

I sat there wondering where Moretti would take his story. Would the pope become an actor? After all, the script goes to great pains to establish that the pope knows all the lines in the play. But no, he’s only an observer. As the pope wanders the street, will he be inspired by his contact with ordinary people to take up his responsibility on their behalf? Nope, he never really interacts with anybody.

Michel Piccolo as the newly elected Pope in

Michel Piccoli stars as a newly chosen pope with second thoughts about his powerful role. — Courtesy, Transmission Films

Will he discover the repressed memory that triggered his panic attack? Um, no. Then I was hoping that Swiss guard in the papal apartments would somehow be accidentally revealed to the world, so the cardinals would have no choice but to create a backstory for him, announce him as pope and have the reluctant Melville serve as his behind-the-scenes mentor. I really liked that one.

But as the film wound down, I sadly realized that I was working a lot harder on this movie than Moretti was. I can’t remember a film that took so long and went down so many blind alleys only to deliver the central character to the exact same place he was when the story began. Seriously, you could cut We Have a Pope about 18 minutes in, splice it directly to a point three minutes before the end, and you would not have missed one second of character development.

Piccoli made his first movie in 1945, virtually as the Nazis were leaving Paris. He has worked with the likes of Jean-Luc Godard, Louis Malle, Alfred Hitchcock and Alain Resnais. If there’s a reason to see We Have a Pope, it is his remarkably measured performance. Behind the pope’s panicked eyes churn secrets and emotions only his tortured character can know. And that’s where they stay, because We Have a Pope’s weirdly constipated script refuses to let them out.

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