Italian director Nanni Moretti's We Have a Pope takes its name from a latin declaration on the balcony of St Peter's, telling the expectant world that a new pope is elected. Here, that moment stretches into infinity, as pope-elect Melville (Michel Piccoli) decides whether this holy office is really what he wants with the remainder of his days. The world outside, and the Vatican within, wait. Moretti drops himself into this expectant limbo, playing a psychologist who tries to draw out this reluctant pontiff. As the pope-to-be explores his regrets at the acting life he never led, Moretti's atheist psychologist finds his own dogmas rubbing up against catholic dogma, its ritual and grace. To kill time, he organises a volleyball tournament among the cardinals, drawing on a level of organisational complexity that rivals the papal election which begins the film.
Despite Moretti's light touch, this film takes its papacy seriously. Even as Meville watches his own bingo-like election at the hands of his elderly peers, once elected he feels the weight of god descend. And it's this weight that he negotiates across the course of the movie. Will this aspiring actor find it within himself to give his one, crucial speech?
The tone of the film is gentle, full of sympathy for its characters and rife with absurdities, as atheism and the modern world mix in the Vatican. Cardinals sway without irony to the music of Argentian activist Mercedes Sosa during a moment that is nothing but irony, Moretti's psychologist schools the waiting cardinals on the bible and the oceania volleyball team plays out a deep, deep understanding of Australian soccer. We Have a Pope draws on the idea that melodrama is essential to political movements, painting the pope-to-be as an actor with his cardinals as (in the end, literally) his audience, waiting for that one decisive moment where he finds those unexpected words within. The ending is abrupt, but the words come.