04/02/2012 10:07 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Politics and an Atheist's Pope: Nanni Moretti in the Spotlight, Part Two


In Part One of my interview, I wanted to offer an overall profile of filmmaker Nanni Moretti, one that for once did not refer to him as the "Italian Woody Allen", a definition I find simplistic and tired. Part Two is dedicated to the ideas and inspirations behind Moretti's latest film, We Have a Pope, which opens in the US this week.

We Have a Pope is a thought-provoking film attempting to shed light on the doubts that can be felt by a true leader. Moretti's Melville - touchingly portrayed by Michel Piccoli - is a vulnerable stand-in for all world leaders of today, religious or otherwise. Perhaps the reason we find ourselves in such dire socio-economic times is exactly because those who would make the best heads of state or chiefs of institutions experience the same self doubt Moretti's Pope-elect is faced with. Fact is that in recent months rumor in the Italian media has been that Pope Ratzinger wishes to return to his studies and leave his Papal duties. Truth? Who knows. Another example of life imitating art? Perhaps.

E. Nina Rothe: I first watched We Have a Pope at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival. A film about a reluctant Catholic leader watched in the Middle East allowed for a neutral environment, where I felt all my fellow audience members traveling with me on this magical cinematic journey.

Nanni Moretti: Clearly, the audience reception can change from country to country, however the lead character's feelings of inadequacy, that's something that can interest all, and affect almost anyone, in any part of the world. To feel inadequate when faced with others' expectations, and even our own, is a universal concept.

ENR: Your film is about a religious icon, but your Pope could represent the struggles of any modern leader, a head of state or even the chief of a corporation. In the Arab world it was definitely understood that way.

NM: Yes, yet if I had made it about a politician or a Wall Street manager, the film would have been "smaller", the path of the movie more narrow. Instead, because it is the story of a Pope, I believed it would be a more universal story. What my film is not is an invitation to all who hold positions of power and responsibility to quit. This is the story of one man, this old man who just can't make it and with his "NO", his refusal, he reveals the muteness of power. The faithful at first are happy to have found in him a different kind of guide, when he announces that a great change is needed. But as far as he is concerned, this man feels that in order to embody all men, to represent all mankind he must relinquish his own vulnerability, his fragility as a man. Not an easy decision.

ENR: Do you think it's possible to be a good leader in today's world? To be a spiritual person and a leader?

NR: I think it's possible, the challenge is to see what can be achieved. But try, one should always try. You see, I'm not a believer. As a child I believed, as an adult I no longer do. I don't take pride in it, usually non believers pride themselves on their lack of faith, I don't. Actually, I'm full of regrets about it. But I wanted to make this kind of assessment on the Vatican, not make a frontal film. Mine is not a realistic movie. Any "serious" filmmaker - good or bad - if he had chosen to make a realistic film would have dealt with the issues of Vatican finance, pedophilia, much more somber themes.

ENR: And it would not have turned into such a profound film...

NM: Yet it was the film many were expecting, wanted from me. A large part of the audience wished to see a film they were already familiar with. But that film did not interest me. Firstly, because it wasn't my film. But also because I wanted to create a realistic frame - with my screenwriters, my costume designer, my set designer - of the conclave, the elections, the clothes, the prayers and the procedures. Within that, my Vatican, my cardinals and my Pope. I've watched many films where the Papal conclave is filled with power plays, self-nominations, cardinals who want to be Pope, jealousy, envy, intrigue. That did not interest me, I'd watched it already. Fact is, I don't know what happens within the conclave, but my choices as a filmmaker have always been influenced by what I wish to watch as a spectator. I wanted to show cardinals terrorized by the possibility of becoming Pope, and convey the shock of discovering that the Pope, the cardinals can be human. After all, if they aren't human beings, who is?!

ENR: In past work, and particularly in your 2006 film Il Caimano, you pointed the cinematic finger at Silvio Berlusconi. Is it better in Italy today, now that "The Caiman" is gone?

NM: At least, and I speak only for myself, the people at the top now are there because of their credentials and not other reasons. They don't have an easy path ahead, because in Italy we are in the midst of a crisis, even if Berlusconi dismissed it for years, with his typically crude sentences like "the restaurants are always full"... Thankfully, he will never be President of the Republic, which would have been really depressing and humiliating for the country. A President should be someone who unites, and represents all Italians, and Berlusconi is a person who takes sides. Not even the side of his constituents, just his own personal side. Although, with [Mario] Monti, it has been a bit of a defeat, since Berlusconi didn't fall because of the opposition or his scandals, but because the world markets spoke and basically told him to go home.

We Have a Pope (Habemus Papam) opens in limited release on April 6th, and will be available On-Demand from April 10th.

Image courtesy of IFC Films, used with permission