Habemus Papam is in the Official Selection of the LUX Prize 2011. Following the death of the Pope, the Conclave meets to elect his successor. A cardinal is chosen who seems unable to bear the weight of such a responsibility. Is it anxiety? Is it depression? Does he feel inadequate? The faithful are waiting for the new Pope to appear on the balcony in St. Peter’s Square. The world is on tenterhooks, while in the Vatican they seek ways to come through the crisis.
With six Nastri d'Argento gongs out of seven nominations, Habemus Papam was the major winner of the 2011 edition of the Italian Film Critics’ Awards (Director of Best Film, Best Original Story Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design and Best Producer). The film received the Golden Globe for Best Film at the Foreign Press Association in Italy. Habemus Papam was in competition at the 64th Cannes Film Festival.
In a Sistine Chapel accidentally left in the dark, the cardinals convened to elect the new Pope trip and sigh nervously. While outside, in Piazza San Pietro, the faithful with candles in hand and the global media await the white smoke, there is solemnity inside, among the cardinals seized by a manifest terror. The invocation "Lord, I beg you, not me” flutters throughout the room, among worried faces of voters glimpsing at their neighbour’s ballot.
No one wants to be the new Pope, there’s too much responsibility, as well as competition. With this scene, that is simultaneously and evocative, in which the “disobedient” cardinals recite their prayers and their "Not me’s" in all the languages of the world, drowning each other out, the drama begins at the centre of the latest film by Nanni Moretti, We Have a Pope. That of a man of the cloth who, once elected, panics and is incapable of accepting the charge of a billion followers.
Habemus Papam tackles the sense of bewilderment and inadequateness in the face of power, and stars a tired and suffering Michel Piccoli as a sad Pope, and Moretti (more "Moretti-esque" than ever), as the psychotherapist who sets out to cure him.
"It’s hard to say who I identified with,” said the director, winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes 2001 for The Son’s Room, "probably both the psychotherapist and the depressed Pope. A Pope that, not coincidentally, I wanted to shoot in civilian clothes in Rome, taking a bus, going to the theatre”.
The two characters are flanked by a strong group of picturesque priests from all five continents, a melting pot that will come in handy for a volleyball tournament in a Vatican courtyard, refereed by Moretti, in what is destined to become a cult sequence. The priests’ human side is also shown: some smoke, others play Briscola, while others yet yearn for donuts, in a series of biting moments and lines that the director’s fans wlll appreciate.
The film mixes comedy and drama, with scenes of masses and solitude, against a sumptuous production design. The film was shot at Palazzo Farnese (the seat of the French embassy in Rome) and Villa Medici (the French Academy), while the Sistine Chapel and the Sala Regia were reconstructed in the Cinecittà Studios.
Produced for €8m by Sacher Film and Fandango in collaboration with RAI Cinema and in association with Le Pacte, Habemus Papam has been released in Italy on April 15 on 460 screensby 01 Distribution with the collaboration of Sacher Distribuzione and will be released in France on 7 September 2011.
Extracts from director Nanni Moretti's press conference following the Rome press screening of Habemus Papam:
What did you feel compelled to say in Habemus Papam?
I wanted to depict a fragile man, Cardinal Melville, who feels in adequate in the face of power and the role he’s called to fill, and I wanted to do it as a comedy. I wanted to show my character, the volleyball tournament, the lack of affection, Melville’s love for the theatre. Initially, the Pope’s sister, an actress, was in the script. Then we had her die, she’s only mentioned. Nevertheless, I think this feeling of inadequacy happens to all cardinals elected Pope, or at least that’s what they say.
How did you meet Michel Piccoli?
I asked him to audition six scenes in Italian and he accepted. I went to Paris, August 14, 2009, we worked on the scenes and immediately afterwards I told him I would be happy if he would be in my film. I knew Piccoli was good, but it was when I saw the film in the screening room, the entire edit, that I realized how much, with his silences, his expressions and his walk, he gave to the character.
How did you choose the name Melville?
A few years ago I directed an edition of the Turin Film Festival during which there was a retrospective on French director [Jean-Pierre] Melville. When co-screenwriters Federica Pontremoli and Francesco Piccolo and I were searching for the characters’ names, we thought of Melville. We got attached to it, so it stuck.
Is there some of Moretti in the Pope?
There is something of me in both the character I play, the psychoanalyst, and the Pope. I have to add though that I never thought, not even for a moment, of playing the Pope, even though everyone who heard I was making a film about a depressed Pope said: "He’ll play the lead!" But we needed someone entirely different, another character, another age.
Did you plan on showing the cardinals in such an affectionate and human light from the very beginning?
While writing we started to really like some of the cardinals: the competitive one, the favourite, the proto-deacon who takes really strong tranquillizers. There are also various non-professional actors. The Chilean cardinal, one of the ones who plays cards, was actually an extra, he had another job. On the set, in scene after scene, I realized who were the non-actors I could use to turn into characters.
I’d also like to emphasise that a few years ago, for numerous weeks, the newspapers spoke about the scandals that involved the Church. Both while we were writing and when I was shooting I preferred to not let myself be overwhelmed by these facts. Those who wanted to know them, knew them. My film is something else.