By Fernando Ganzo
In a very amusing moment at the press conference for Restless, its screenwriter, Jason Lew, said that he was delighted to be in the land where cinema was born, meaning France. Maybe indirectly he meant Cannes, a festival born only a few years before classifications such as «the best films ever», «the best filmmakers...» began to exist. Thierry Frémaux, delegate of the festival and master of ceremonies, corrected him quickly saying: «be careful, we are in Cannes, not in Lyon!», the city were the Lumières actually invented the cinematographer. The joke worked alright, but it didn’t fade the strange feeling of contradiction that caused hearing that kid declaring a nearly fetishist emotion towards cinema when, in a day and a half of the festival, only one film of the eight that I’ve seen has been projected on celluloid.
Only one movie projected on film in the biggest festival of the world. No matter how hard filmakers try to work with the contrasts, create dark zones on the screen, a darkness that is even systematically perturbated by the exit signs (see what Raymond Bellour wrote about what this means for the cinema of Grandrieux), and that is even more unperceptible for the audience in a digital projection.
Maybe that’s the reason why Habemus Papam, rare 35mm projection, has aroused such admiration, and one may wonder if outside the festival the feeling would have been the same. For the moment I’ll bet it would. There are so many gifts for the audience in it as to not accept it with your eyes wide open. Moretti opens drawers and takes from them moments that nearly stand for themselves, without leaving, with so many breaks, to contribute to the development of a film that is always lively. It is certainly the most lively film that we have seen till now, which is far from being easy if we take into acoount that it is a movie about the Vatican, a universe therefore masculine, aged, secret, dark, monotonous. It is not by chance that the first sequence after the credits is a blackout. A blackout that comes after a completely television-like opening, with images of crowds at San Pedro Square for the deceased pope’s funeral and of reporters trying to come close to the cardinals on the way to their conspiratory sit-in.
With that blackout, all the expectations of watching a film about the Vatican or it’s place in society go out too, disappointing those who expected an abrasive attack against the church. And then we get to the sequence of the ballot, in which none of the cardinals want to be elected. And it opens a new road that the film will abandon: that of the pressure of the pope. Because very soon, Michel Piccoli, the elected pope, wont feel anymore the anguish of being elected, but the anguish of discovering that in old age there is no one ahead of you, there are no more texts to play nor more orders to obey. That will be the conclusion that comes out from his encounters with two psychoanalists: the first one, Moretti himself, invited by the Vatican for an unsuccesful encounter that will force him to stay there, shut up, surrounded by priests, waiting for things to be solved and not having to keep the secret anymore. The second one, the wife of the former, to which office they take the pope incognito. When she demands his profession, a travelling, a little vulgar, takes us closer to Piccoli’s face, that suddenly gets iluminated in a magical way to pronounce the words: ‘’I’m an actor’’. An actor, Piccoli, who has no more texts left to play (the character knows texts by Chejov by heart), there’s nothing left for him but to fight his own old age. That double relation between the actor and the character and his constant to-ing and fro-ing are some kind of a homage, a beautiful gift for the old Piccoli.
But, after his encounter with the psychiatrist, the pope escapes. And meanwhile, of course, the psychiatrist continues to be shut up with the cardinals. As you can imagine in a situation like this, the movie is nourished with an inexhaustible and true imagination. Let’s think about what might be asking oneself how to shoot a bunch of cardinals voting to elect the pope, like those ballots to choose the class representative; Moretti’s result has all the beauty of that humour born from just imagining a naughty gesture: the cardinal that takes a look at his companion vote. A huis clos between priests and psychiatrists is in itself a brilliant idea. That everything comes to a conclusion in a volleyball tournament, where Moretti organizes the teams accordint to nationalities, and that it might be so beautiful to see how Oceania wins it’s first point, is just another sample of that steady hand that controls the film. And meanwhile, by the windows of the pope’s room, a fake pope makes the cardinals belief that Piccoli hasn’t escaped. And meanwhile, Piccoli has escaped, he’s not there, he listens to music in the street, a southamerican songwriter, he goes to the theatre in which’s stage he was never let to perform, and finally, he assumes his resignation.
To live in truth one must make a comedy. And when the comedy ends, we are left totally alone.
And Arvo Part’s music comes in.
Translated from Spanish by Juan M. Pastora.