Scene Last Night: Depressed Pope, Turturro, Volleyball

'We Have a Pope'
A volleyball tournament gets underway in a Vatican courtyard in the film 'We Have a Pope.' Sundance Selects releases the film in the U.S. on April 6. Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Last night I watched “We Have a Pope” in a private screening room on Park Avenue, with playwright Neil Simon and actors Tovah Feldshuh and Josh Mostel. Then I met the film’s director, Nanni Moretti, and his girlfriend, Chiara Palmieri, over dinner at Desmond’s.

The comedy-drama, made in Italy, requires an appreciation for the absurdity of cardinals playing in a volleyball tournament at the Vatican, relishing every “punto.”

“That scene alone was worth its price in gold,” said Feldshuh, tucked into a white banquette at Desmond’s with a plate of greens and burrata in front of her.

The cardinals -- from Sri Lanka, Japan, Australia -- are sequestered at the Vatican because the man they’ve elected pope, played by Michel Piccoli, has been unable to address the faithful from the balcony on St. Peter’s Square.

A papal adviser brings in a psychiatrist to help. The pope flees, taking up with a troupe of actors rehearsing Chekhov.

“I loved when he was walking on the street by himself,” actor John Turturro said sitting across from Moretti at Desmond’s. “It shows how the pope, or the president or any world leader, how isolated they are from the world. Celebrities also suffer somewhat from that.”

Had he himself ever had a job offer he didn’t want? “Working in an office all day,” Turturro said.

Bible Diagnosis

Moretti, president of the jury for the 2012 Cannes film festival, plays the psychiatrist. On screen he tries to console the cardinals by reading a passage from the Bible describing the symptoms of depression -- his diagnosis for the pope.

Moretti’s own advice for fighting the blues, speaking through a translator: “Play sports, go to the movies and eat chocolate.”

Moretti said he likes playing tennis and he used to play water polo.

“We Have a Pope” will probably make about $1 million in the U.S., said Ryan Werner, Sundance Selects marketing and publicity executive.

“That’s the goal for a foreign film,” he added, though he noted some recent aberrations: “Pina,” the Wim Wenders documentary about dancer-choreographer Pina Bausch, has made $3 million. The Iranian film “The Separation,” which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, has made $6 million.

(Amanda Gordon is a writer and photographer for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are her own.)

-- Editors: Jeffrey Burke, Lili Rosboch.

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