03/30/2012 03:42 pm ET Updated May 30, 2012

Be Italian: Nanni Moretti's We Have a Pope

Introducing a private screening of his new movie, We Have a Pope, this week, director Nanni Moretti stopped mid-sentence and walked up the aisle to kiss kiss his pal John Turturro. Of course he was speaking in Italian and the gesture seemed so European, the audience including Tony LoBianco, Gay Talese, John Ventimiglia, Michael Musto, and a few non-Italians, Paul Schrader, Tovah Feldshuh, Alex Gibney, Lois Smith, Josh Mostel, Terry George, and Neil Simon, seemed to take the friendly gesture as a matter of course. Through his translator, Moretti, who is now celebrated at the IFC Center with a retrospective of his work, went on to tell a story about the making of this film about the inner doubts of a newly elected pope starring Michel Piccoli.

Without Piccoli, Moretti said, there would be no film. They filmed a scene in a warehouse that was used during the day so their shooting hours were from 7 p.m. until 6 a.m. He kept insisting upon close-ups of Piccoli to the point where the French actor, exasperated, shouted, "I've had enough. I want to go back to reality." Moretti, who doubles as a shrink in the movie, recounted a subsequent conversation with his son Pietro, to which the 14 year-old said, "Wonderful, Piccoli!"

Many viewing the film will want to say "Wonderful, Piccoli," but for the simple reason of his splendid performance. The veteran actor's soft-eyed calm, saintly, human misgivings about what he as pope can offer his flock do not contradict the idea that he is the best man for the job. The film's biggest laugh comes when the cardinals, after a long procession, redolent in robes, pray not to be the chosen one.

After the screening, the happy crowd, reveling in the deep humanity of the film's glimpse into this reluctant pontiff, walked over to Desmond's for a continental dinner.

A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.