Given the news emanating out of The Vatican this month, I thought this would be a good time to take in the film, We Have A Pope (Habemus Papam). It did play here in Sarasota in the late spring or early summer of last year. I’d even made plans to see it at The Burns Court Cinema. But for reasons no longer important, I didn’t get to see it.
If you are wondering – the title Habemus Papam is Latin and translates to We Have A Pope. At the beginning of the film, at an unspecified time, but apparently in the present, a Pope dies. As per the custom following a Papal death, the College of Cardinals, the princes of the church, meet in a private conclave which is held in the Sistine Chapel. They are sequestered away from the prying eyes of the world, and are not able to re-enter the world until they’ve completed their task – which is to elect a new Pope from among those gathered for the conclave.
Soon enough we see a solemn procession of the red hatted, cardinals wending their way through The Vatican, chanting the hypnotic Litany of Saints. Once they enter the Sistine Chapel, the room is locked. The Cardinals themselves are locked in, and the world is basically locked out. The College of Cardinals has become both virtually and actually, out of sight, and out of touch – or said another way – no cell phones permitted.
Work looms. They must elect a new Pope. We do not see negotiations of any kind. While we do see discussions in various small groupings, we do not see heated discussions, angry debates, finger-pointing, or campaigning of any sort. While not every one is happy – foot stomping just isn’t done. What we do see, in a series of one-shots of assorted cardinals – is that many of them are actively praying to God that they won’t be named Pope. It is clear, that a good number of them don’t want the job.
A series of ballots are run. This is done in a rather light-hearted way. A Cardinal writes in a name, then crosses it out. Other Cardinals lean in a direction trying to see what the Cardinal seated next to them is writing. None of this is done in broad, farcical strokes. Instead it is a mixture of a deft comedic hand and a good deal of understatement.
But the ballots do not yield a clear-cut majority winner. So the ballots continue, as do the prayers that are basically all saying – Dear God, please don’t let them pick me.
Since so many don’t want the job, what might an ideal strategy be? We aren’t told per se – but it becomes clear that the one selected was chosen because he looked Papal, looked to be in good health, and was an obvious compromise selection. As the written ballots were read out one by one – we didn’t need to hear a count. It was easily a lopsided runaway victory for Cardinal Melville (pronounced Mel-veal). He’s played by Michel Piccoli.