A scene from Nanni Moretti's Vatican tale "We Have a Pope." (IFC Films )
As topics for fact-based movies go, you’d be hard-pressed to find one as tricky as the papal selection. The process is cloaked in secrecy, for starters, and it’s not like it happens much more than once a decade.
Yet the news that Pope Benedict XVI is stepping down from the holiest position in the Catholic Church after just eight years in the role stirs memories of a recent movie: Nanni Moretti’s “Habemus Papam.”
The Italian-language drama-cum-satire premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2011 -- you can read our report on it here -- before opening in the U.S. as “We Have a Pope” last April. It contains a few story lines that may have foretold, however inadvertently, that which seems to have played out in the Vatican in recent months.
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The movie begins when, during the papal convocation, all of the cardinals pray silently they won’t be chosen. When one of them (Michel Piccoli) finally is, he has a minor meltdown. He knows he’s in for a world of scrutiny and responsibility, and he’s decided he doesn’t want the job. Soon enough he has slipped outside the Vatican walls and gone for a walk on the streets of Rome, causing consternation for the Holy See's spokesman, among others.
Benedict has said it’s a matter of health, not the rigors of the job per se, that’s prompting his resignation. "After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry," he said.
Still, film fans can be forgiven for seeing the connection to a movie about a pope who also respectfully asks out of the role. And much of Moretti’s tale (in which he also stars) centers on the Vatican's scrambling attempts to manage the story, something it knows a little bit about with today’s news.
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We’re not the only ones to notice the connection. IFC Films' Sundance Selects, which released the movie Stateside, spotted the headlines too and sprung into a social-media promotion for iTunes and the DVD shortly after the news broke, according to a representative.
Not everyone would be happy with the parallels, though. After the movie screened in Italy, an official papal publication did not take kindly to it. "Why should we support financially that which offends our religion?" asked a writer in the Vatican-linked Avvenire, addressing would-be ticket buyers. "We shouldn't touch the pope, the rock on which Jesus founded its church."
Pope Benedict XVI resigns
Cannes 2011: How will Catholics react to a papal comedy?
'We Have a Pope': Anxiety and surprise at the Vatican
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