Text by Gabriele Niola
Photos by Alessio Costantino
Translation by Bianca Baroni
In collaboration with Badtaste.it
It’s hard to review two episodes of a work that since its first scenes, seems to be a complex portay organized in 10 parts; if we consider its trailer shown today to the audience of the 73rd Venice Festival, this work promises that it will change our idea of TV narration. Who hopes or is afraid to be presented at a clerical version of House of Cards or Game of Thrones, will better take leave of their hopes or fears just from the beginning. The Young Pope is a work by Sorrentino –or, at least, it seems so from that we saw and admire in the first two episodes.
In comparison to the intentional sense of fragmentation of Il Divo and especially of The Great Beauty, here Sorrentino seems to recover a narrative linearity which is present but limited and finds an intern dialogic freedom. The key points of the plot are the lifting body of the movie and they allow the screenwriter-director to go wild – without any apparent sense of self-satisfaction- and they help him to build those situations which take things from reality to reach the grotesque, throughout refined comedy that will leave the audience perplexed, not so used to the director’s sense of humor.
The witty factor is just one of the overlapping coats that give to The Young Pope a vivid and shimmering richness, adding interest to the human parabola of Lenny, the pope we still don’t know well. After all, it’s him that says like it is that he’s always been preparing to papacy, training on concealment and confusion of the interlocutor for what concerns his real thoughts, revealing a mind inclined to the continuous sense of suspect and, consequently, to solitude. Lenny works on his Pio XIII since years (and Pio XIII it’s not a random name, the first recall to Papa Pacelli arrives in the choreographic gesture of his arms, wide open in the initial dream, a wink to the historical shot of the pope in front of Saint Laurence’s ruins). Its rise to his dream is a successful completion of other people’s political strategy –first of all, cardinal Voiello’s one (Silvio Orlando), who doesn’t know about the problems he will get because of the young American.
We don’t see a hoary and doubtful pope portrayed by Moretti in 2011, but he is a forceful strategist that nevertheless falls victim of his own strategy: dissimulation becomes contradiction, arrogance creates irreparable solitude, which he can’t escape, neither together with the beloved Mary (Diane Keaton), the nun who’s his spiritual mother. Not even his betrayed mentor, cardinal Spencer (James Cromwell), will help him but instead will make him feel the weight of a second desertion, after the one he lived as a child, left alone in Mary’s orphanage.
Not even God will save Lenny from his isolation, God won’t offer a glimmer in a moment of crisis: we perceive a sense of envy for those few examples of authentic kindness he meets in his life, a kind of envy that finds vent when everyone’s eyes are on him. And there, in the darkness Lenny strongly wanted, in the denial of the divine light that we could imagine as wound up by such a young pope, his angry and sorrowful homily, it seems that it echos the speech of the pope interpreted by Renato Scarpa at the ending of An Average Little Man.
The basic difference is that Lenny is not talking about God addressing to humanity, but he’s talking about God –and his father- addressing to himself, with a sense of awareness about his alienation, in a scenery that offers him only hostility (that is something opposite to what shown in the dream, at the beginning).
And that’s the answer to that “what did we forget?” and it leaves space to many doubts: Lenny forgot about Spencer, accepting the role that the old prelate dreamt to hold, while doing what has been left for him. And yet, the seed of that memory seems to be still alive in Lenny and put in concrete in the old pipe stored during the years as the last and maybe the only reminder of his father.
Apart of the incredible machine that guaranteed an excellent technical realization, The Young Pope is maybe the most ambitious project, for its thematic, ever realized by Sorrentino. The inevitable reflection on power is decentralized from the focus of the narration, becoming one of the many tiles that create the vivid portray of a human drama. In fact, the structure of Lenny’s character is excellent: he’s ambitious and troubled, astute but not nice, fascinating but unapproachable; the choice of Jude Law’s magnetic gaze is perfect to embody the ambiguities of a character who lures and repels at the same time, altering the longing to solemnity to a cynical anger, outcome of a disillusioned pain.
Once we saw the trailer, we could speculate on the continuation of the series, but the hope is that Lenny’s unpredictability will spread on the story itself. At this state of things, The Young Pope gets a white smoke: we’ll see if its TV pontificate will satisfy the high expectation after these two incredible episodes.