Thursday, March 29, 2012

Nanni Moretti Retrospective and His Latest, "We Have a Pope"

In his new film, We Have a Pope, Nanni Moretti plays Brezzi, a psychoanalyst called on by a desperate college of cardinals to convince the reluctant Holy Father-elect (a magnificently befuddled Michel Piccoli, above) to accept his new position. In typically understated Moretti style, the good doctor--a divorced unbeliever, unsurprisingly--never gets to the heart of the former Cardinal Melville’s difficulties, instead organizing a Vatican volleyball tournament that’s suspended before the finals when the group has to return for another conclave. Melville, meanwhile, discovers the small pleasures of real life when he briefly escapes his handlers after briefly seeing Brezzi’s ex-wife for another therapy session, which may or may not have to do with his ultimate decision in front of the throngs at St. Peter’s Square.

A one-joke movie, We Have a Pope (opening April 6) is minor Moretti, but it contains more gently satiric insights into the endearing absurdity of human nature that mark a career now spanning three decades and several feature films, all part of the current IFC Center series, La Vita è Cinema: The Films of Nanni Moretti (through April 5).

Moretti became a film festival favorite stateside with 1994’s Caro Diario, an incisively funny and personal film-essay starring the writer-director-actor as himself in a trio of vignettes that culminate with his cancer diagnosis. Moretti’s unsentimental, self-effacing persona was on display in that film, along with another huge festival--and art house--hit, 2001’s The Son’s Room, a devastating account of a family pulled apart by the death of a beloved teenage son. Moretti unselfishly allowed that remarkable actress Laura Morante (below, with Moretti) to steal the film as his wife, literally stunned by her loss and unable to cope with it.

Not only are several of Moretti’s rarely-seen films--forget about DVD or Blu-ray--being shown during the series, but all will be screened in 35mm prints, from his debut, 1976’s I Am Self-Sufficient to his great political films, 1985’s The Mass Has Ended and 1990’s Palombella Rosa. Never shying from controversy or skewering those in power, Moretti created a bitter portrait in 2006 of Italian president Silvio Berlusconi, The Caiman; I don’t remember it being shown in New York before, possibly because it deals so intimately with the state of politics in Moretti’s own country. But the recent success of the film Il Divo proved that intelligence and intrigue can compensate for lack of specific knowledge about Italy’s inner workings, so maybe The Caiman’s time has come.

A welcome antidote to the hyperbolic Roberto Benigni, Nanni Moretti artfully blends the personal, political and universal, as La Vita è Cinema shows.

La Vita è Cinema: The Films of Nanni Moretti
March 28-April 5, 2012
IFC Center, 323 Sixth Avenue, New York, NY

We Have a Pope
Starring, written and directed by Nanni Moretti
Opens April 6, 2012

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