Panicked pope seeks psychoanalytic help in new Moretti film

A newly elected pope seized by panic turns to a psychoanalyst for help in Italian director Nanni Moretti's latest comedy, "Habemus Papam", selected Thursday to compete at the Cannes film festival.

Things get off to a good start for cardinal Melville, played by French actor Michel Piccoli: initially an outsider in the papal race, his modest appearance and calm manner persuade the voting cardinals that he is the man for the job.

But as the enormity of the task grows on him, the cardinal becomes increasingly agitated and at the announcement "We have a Pope!" he rushes off, leaving the famous balcony in St. Peter's square empty as the crowds stare.

"Help me, I can't do it," the new pope cries as he sets off at a sprint down the corridors of the Vatican, leaving the stunned cardinals in his wake.

Alarmed, the Vatican spokesman decides to call in Rome's best psychoanalyst, played by Moretti, whose first meeting with the patient turns into a comical group session with all the cardinals.

Banned from talking about sex, fantasies, mothers or dreams, Moretti turns to the only authorised text, the Bible, for inspiration.

"The concepts of the soul and the subconscious cannot coexist," protests a cardinal, to which the psychoanalyst swiftly retorts: "The Bible is full of depression: sleep deprivation, sadness and suicides."

The most persuasive performance comes from 85-year-old Piccoli as a man devoured by fear and a desperate longing to throw off his pontiff robes and go back to enjoying the simple, everyday pleasures of the masses.

"I wanted to tell the story about this fragile character who feels unsuited to the role, but in the form of a comedy," Moretti told reporters at a press conference on Thursday.

"I hoped to convey that feeling of being inept that all cardinals experience after they are elected," the 57-year-old director added.

The sense of foreboding depicted in Moretti's film was captured in Pope enedict XVI's book "Light of the World," in which the current pontiff confessed how he felt when he heard he had been elected.

"I thought the guillotine had come for me," he wrote. "Voila! Now it will fall and strike you," he told himself.

The pope's depression and his solitary existence move the Vatican spokesman and the audience to pity: "Let me leave, I beg of you," he cries as the camera lingers on his visual struggle between faith and anxiety.

"Habemus Papam" is less a reflection on the relationship between religion and psychoanalysis than a comedy that pokes fun at journalists and psychoanalysts, whilst having a gentle dig at the Church as well.

Interviewed by the AFP, the director of "The Son's Room" in 2001 and "Dear Diary" in 1994 admitted that the theme of psychoanalysis "comes up often in my films."

"One day I'll have to ask myself why," he joked.

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