Lacrimosa! His holiness is dead, and a new pontiff must be elected. So begins Nanni Moretti’s lightweight burlesque of Vatican culture and the veddy, veddy Catholic hysteria that results, within and without, from a belief in Christ. The funniest stuff is up front, as a papal conclave is convened and each of the assembled cardinals prays like an ill-prepared student hoping he isn’t called on by the teacher. It’s an unlucky day for Melville (Piccoli), a genial-looking elder gent who garners the majority vote, clearly to his chagrin. Soon enough, his feigned confidence gives way and he runs to hide, leaving his colleagues and the faithful waiting for his blessing in the lurch.
What to do? That’s when Moretti’s film starts to flail. The introduction of a nonbeliever psychologist, played by the director himself, suggests we’re headed into The King’s Speech territory. (The Pope’s Patois?) But that notion is quickly dispelled after Melville abandons ship and heads out on a soul-searching quest into Rome. The satire becomes more scattershot and strangely cuddlesome (didja know sequestered holy men enjoy socializing and playing sports, just like us?), while the usually great Piccoli—saddled with a ridiculously contrived failed-actor backstory—comes off like an unholy mix of Gérard Depardieu and Robin Williams at their sad-puppiest. That’s some cinematic blasphemy, Moretti.
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