Nanni Moretti's new film might sound like an Italian version of The King's Speech, but in fact it is an altogether different kettle of fish, though not an entirely satisfactory experience.
The film opens in Rome as a Pope dies, and a conclave of cardinals meets to choose a new one. This provides opportunities for some mild humour, as a TV journalist describes the contenders as if they were horses at a racetrack, while the contenders themselves are all secretly praying that they won't be one who is chosen. Eventually a name comes out of the hat and the others are all suitably enthusiastic and deferential. But when the moment comes for the (un)lucky one to stand up in front of the assembled masses and say a few well chosen words, he panics and makes a run for it. Cue the arrival of the best psychoanalyst in Rome (Played by Moretti himself), hired to help the poor guy get his head together (and by implication, man up and do the right thing). Unfortunately he has to speak to his client with a circle of eager robed cardinals surrounding them, which is hardly conducive to a profound search of the patient's wellbeing - especially when he is told all the subjects he can't talk about. At this point, we might think we are about to get a rerun of Bertie and Lionel. Not so.
Because the don't wannabe Pope escapes from his gilded cage, and roams the streets of Rome as a free and unknown senior citizen, while anxious officials try to cover up his absence, and Moretti is left to play card games with cardinals, as well as organising an intercontinental volleyball game to help pass the time. And so the film divides into two parts - the Pope incognito among his people (like Henry V on the night before Agincourt), and shrink reduced to drawing psychological analogies from the bible and debating Darwinism versus divine creation.
And all that might have been quite fun if Moretti the director had taken a little more care over the script, and linking the disparate episodes. As it is, it feels as if this is an idea for a film rather than a completed project. Stuff happens without explanation or context, and then just finishes again, without conclusion. For example, Melville (the name of the Pope when he was an ordinary cardinal) joins a group of actors who are performing a Chekhov play, under a somewhat flimsy pretext, and spends a good deal of the latter part of the film joining in with them (it isn't quite clear why they include him), or observing their rehearsals. And then, just as arbitrarily, it's over, and we don't really know what the point of the episode was, even though it was mildly entertaining while it was going on.
It's almost as if Moretti felt that the idea of a Pope who doesn't want to be a Pope, and a psychoanalyst who can't talk to his patient is intrinsically amusing and that all he has to do is to present his audience with these ingredients for them to be entertained. But he has not been so cavalier with complexity in the past. The Son's Room, for example, is a fully rounded film, whereas Habemus Papam is too embryonic to grasp our attention as fully as it might. I enjoyed watching the film, but at the end, when the Pope finally makes up his mind about what he wants to do, I couldn't help feeling that it had all been a lot of fuss about nothing.