We Have a Pope (film)

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We Have a Pope
Habemus Papam
Italian poster
Directed byNanni Moretti
Written byNanni Moretti
Francesco Piccolo
Federica Pontremoli
Produced byNanni Moretti
Domenico Procacci
StarringMichel Piccoli
Nanni Moretti
CinematographyAlessandro Pesci
Edited byEsmeralda Calabria
Music byFranco Piersanti
Distributed by01 Distribution (Italy)
Le Pacte (France)
Release dates
  • 15 April 2011 (2011-04-15) (Italy)
  • 7 September 2011 (2011-09-07) (France)
Running time
104 min.
Budget€ 8 million

We Have a Pope (original title: Habemus Papam) is a 2011 Italian-French comedy-drama film directed by Nanni Moretti and starring Michel Piccoli and Moretti.[1] Its original title is Latin for "We have a pope", the phrase used upon the announcement of a new pope. The story revolves around a cardinal who, against his wishes, is elected pope. A psychoanalyst is called in to help the pope overcome his panic.[2] The film premiered in Italy in April 2011 and played in competition at the 64th Cannes Film Festival.


On the death of the pope, the conclave meets in Rome. Early ballots end with black smoke, since none of the main candidates reaches the quorum. After several rounds of voting, Cardinal Melville is elected, though he had not previously been considered a frontrunner. After a moment of hesitation, he accepts his election and becomes pope immediately.

At the moment of the public announcement, with the faithful are gathered in St. Peter's Square and the cardinal proto-deacon ready to announce the name of the new pope, the newly elected pope has a panic attack and fails to appear on the balcony.

The spokesman of the Holy See evades questions from the press and the curiosity of the outside world by reporting that the new pontiff felt the need to sequester himself in prayer and reflection before being introduced to the public, and by explaining that he will make his official appearance within a few hours. This does not happen.

In accordance with the laws of the Church, until the identity of the new pope is announced publicly, the ceremony of election is not over and no one in the conclave can leave the Vatican (In reality, the conclave ends the moment the pope assents to his election).

The College of Cardinals, deeply concerned by the crisis and the depression from which the new pope seems to be suffering, calls in the psychoanalyst Professor Brezzi (whose role is played by director Nanni Moretti). The cardinals react to the psychoanalyst with some suspicion, but still allow him to examine the new pope. Brezzi, in the presence of the cardinals, tries to initiate a psychotherapy session which, however, fails to reveal anything to explain the depression and helplessness that plague the pontiff.

Brezzi reveals that his ex-wife is also a psychoanalyst and the newly elected pope is taken secretly to see her. After meeting with her he escapes his minders and runs away during a walk. Unaware of his absence, the cardinals kill time by playing games, ranging from cards to an international volleyball tournament organized by Brezzi.

The spokesman makes everyone believe that the Pope is in his quarters in prayer, and eventually the cardinals find Melville and give him another chance to announce his acceptance. Melville comes out onto the balcony claiming "I am not the leader you need", asks the crowd to pray "for what he is about to do", and then retreats back into St. Peter's Basilica.



We Have a Pope was announced in May 2009 as a co-production between Sacher Film, Rai Cinema and the French company Le Pacte.[3] Fandango joined as a co-producer later in the year.[4] The production involved a budget of eight million euro.[2] French actor Michel Piccoli was cast in the leading role after auditioning six scenes in Italian in August 2009. The character's name, Melville, was inspired by the French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Melville. Some of the minor characters were played by members of the production team, whom Moretti found suitable for the roles when working on the set.[5]

Principal photography started 1 February 2010 and was finished by the end of May.[6] Studio constructions at the Cinecittà studios in Rome included replicas of the Sala Regia and the Sistine Chapel. Other scenes were shot in the Palazzo Farnese and Villa Medici, which otherwise house the French embassy and the French Academy in Rome, respectively.[2]


Portrayal of the conclave proceedings[edit]

The film reveals the overwhelming reluctance of a pope-elect to assent to his election as Supreme Pontiff. Director Nanni Moretti explained his aim with the film at the press conference following the press screening in Rome: "I wanted to depict a fragile man, Cardinal Melville, who feels inadequate in the face of power and the role he's called to fill ... I think this feeling of inadequacy happens to all cardinals elected Pope, or at least that's what they say."[5]

The procedure of papal conclave requires a two-thirds supermajority vote to elect a new pope.[7] Then, when the Cardinal Dean asks the pope-elect if he accepts his election, the Pope-elect is free to decline, though typically Cardinals who intend to refuse their election explicitly state this to their colleagues before a two-thirds majority is reached. The Pope-elect immediately enters office and ends the conclave once he accepts his election. All ceremonies regarding his installation are purely ceremonial.


Michel Piccoli at the Cannes Film Festival for the screening of the film

The film was released in Italy on 15 April 2011 through 01 Distribution in collaboration with Sacher Distribuzione. It was launched on 460 screens.[2] We Have a Pope showed In Competition at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.[8]


Box office[edit]

With 1,298,524 euro in revenues during the first weekend, the film entered the Italian box-office chart as number two, behind the American film Rio which premiered simultaneously.[9]

Critical response[edit]

We Have a Pope has an approval rating of 66% on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 82 reviews, and an average rating of 6.1/10. [10] Metacritic assigned the film a weighted average score of 64 out of 100, based on 25 critics, indicating "generaly favorable reviews".[11]

In France Les Cahiers du cinéma listed the film as the best picture of the year 2011.[12]

Deborah Young of The Hollywood Reporter called the film "a well-written, surprisingly mainstream comedy" and noted how it was less political than earlier works by Moretti, such as The Mass Is Ended and The Caiman: "Here the storyteller overpowers the moralist in every sense. Not a hint of clerical sex scandals clouds the surreal image of frolicking white-haired Cardinals; the most critical line in the film suggests the Church needs a leader who will bring great change, but even that plays as an offhand remark." Young went on to compliment the production design and cinematography, and called Moretti "one of the most creative filmmakers working in Italy". However, Young wrote, "the finale is a let-down, leaving the feeling of an artist paralyzed by his own perfectionism and his desperate search for originality at all costs."[13]

Reactions from the Roman Catholic community were mixed. Vatican correspondent Salvatore Izzo called for a boycott of the film in the newspaper Avvenire, owned by the Italian Episcopal Conference. Izzo wrote: "We shouldn't touch the pope – the rock on which Jesus founded his Church." He continued: "Why should we support financially that which offends our religion?"[14] Vatican Radio commented on the film and found it to contain "no irony, no caricature" of the pope.[14] Regarding the prospect of an official condemnation of the film from church authorities, Sandro Magister, an Italian journalist specialising in Vatican issues, said: "If there were to be one, it would only help the producer. He would be very happy with a polemic that is completely without foundation."[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Smith, Ian Hayden (2012). International Film Guide 2012. p. 153. ISBN 978-1908215017.
  2. ^ a b c d Scarpa, Vittoria (2011-04-14). "Moretti's Pope suffers from stress". Cineuropa. Retrieved 2011-04-15.
  3. ^ Marco, Camillo de (2009-05-21). "Le Pacte re-teams with Moretti for Abbiamo il Papa". Cineuropa. Retrieved 2011-03-06.
  4. ^ Marco, Camillo de (2009-12-15). "Piccoli to play Pope for Moretti". Cineuropa. Retrieved 2011-03-06.
  5. ^ a b Scarpa, Vittoria (2011-04-21). "Interview with Nanni Moretti". Cineuropa. Retrieved 2011-04-29.
  6. ^ "We Have A Pope (Habemus Papam)". Screenbase. Screen International. Archived from the original on 2022-03-03. Retrieved 2011-03-06.
  7. ^ Benedict XVI (11 June 2007). De aliquibus mutationibus in normis de electione Romani Pontificis (in Latin). Motu proprio. Vatican City: Vatican Publishing House.
  8. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Official Selection". Cannes. Archived from the original on 2011-05-15. Retrieved 2011-04-14.
  9. ^ "Italy Box Office: April 15–17, 2011". Box Office Mojo. Amazon.com. Retrieved 2011-04-21.
  10. ^ We Have a Pope
  11. ^ https://www.metacritic.com/movie/we-have-a-pope?ftag=MCD-06-10aaa1c
  12. ^ "Top Ten 2011, Décembre 2011 n°673". Cahiers du cinéma.
  13. ^ Young, Deborah (2011-04-15). "We Have a Pope: Film Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2011-04-15.
  14. ^ a b c Vaissiere, Jean-Louis de la (2011-04-19). "AFP: Pope's shrink film stirs controversy in Italy". Google News. Retrieved 2011-04-21.

External links[edit]