During the Holy Week before Easter in 2011, Brent Bozell noticed an "Easter bonnet of mud" timed to be thrown at Christians. One of those mudballs was thrown in Italy, a comedy movie called "Habemus Papam" (Latin for "we have a pope.") Franco Zeffirelli, the director of the TV miniseries “Jesus of Nazareth,” agreed Nanni Moretti's film was an insult to the Pope and the Catholic faithful. "It's a horrible cheap shot," Zeffirelli said. "I feel especially sorry for this pontiff, who may not be a crowd-pleaser, but who is very civilized and reasonable."
So it should not be surprising that National Public Radio would applaud its American release, timed once again on Good Friday. Openly gay movie critic Bob Mondello implausibly declared "There's nothing in 'We Have a Pope' that's likely to offend, much that will amuse and also quite a bit of effective design work."
Somehow, Mondello could blithely talk around the movie's conceit that it's quite possible the Holy Spirit can make a big mistake when it's time to pick a pope, concluding, "Despite moments that strain awfully hard to remind us that the church and its new leader are in crisis, basically habemus comoedia, we have a comedy."
On NPR.org on Thursday of Holy Week, there was another positive review from Mark Jenkins, which concluded: "Rather than a strident critique of Catholic dogma and conduct, We Have a Pope offers a simple bit of advice: The Church really ought to get out more."
Jenkins underlined how Moretti implies God (if he exists) makes boo-boos:
"God sees abilities in me I don't have," laments the protagonist of Italian writer-director Nanni Moretti's new movie. Such self-doubt is hardly novel, but Melville (Michel Piccoli) has a special stake in God's opinion of him — he's just been elected pope.
Although best known in this country for the playful Dear Diary and the melancholy The Son's Room, Moretti is a committed leftist and a stalwart opponent of Silvio Berlusconi. His previous film, The Caiman, lunged for the then-prime minister's throat. Yet We Have a Pope is not the filmmaker's next assault on a Roman patriarch. It's a half-sweet, half-rueful existential drama in which the satire comes secondary.
It's not hard to guess that the "committed leftist" part sweetens the movie critics to Moretti's films.