Papal Law Without Papal Bull: Jude Law Shines as The Young Pope

From the Academy Award to HBO, Italian director Paolo Sorrentino never fails to enchant with his sophisticated social critique.

The Great Beauty (which won him an Oscar in 2014) mocked the vacuity of Roman society circles, whilst his latest film − Youth − melancholically ironized on the passing of time. Now, Sorrentino’s first collaboration with the American network − The Young Pope − has given him the chance to create a 10 part television series about a fledgeling Holy Father who is despicably focused on power.

Episodes 1 and 2 have premiered at the 73rd Venice Film Festival, and the entire season will be broadcast on Sky Atlantic in 5 countries: in Italy from October 21st, in UK, Germany, Ireland and Austria from late October, and in France on CANAL+ from late October.

Jude Law plays Lenny Belardo, aka Pius XIII, the first American Pope in history. Young and charming, his election seems to be the result of a simple yet effective media strategy on the part of the College of Cardinals. But appearances can be deceptive. Above all, in the place and among the people who have chosen the great mystery of God as the compass guiding their existence. That place is the Vatican and those people are the leaders of the Church. And Pius XIII proves to be the most mysterious and contradictory of them all. Shrewd and naïve, ironical and pedantic, primeval and cutting-edge, doubting and resolute, melancholy and ruthless, Pius XIII tries to cross the endless river of human solitude to find a God he can give to mankind…and to himself.

Sister Mary (Diane Keaton), who looked after Lenny as a child, is called to the Vatican to be his chief advisor − giving a hard time to Cardinal Voiello (Silvio Orlando), who is already struggling in having Pope Pius XIII acknowledge his role as Secretary of State.

the_young_pope_first_look_-_h_-_2015Sorrentino’s Pontiff resembles a young Frank Underwood (House of Cards), placed within the director’s habitual sardonic Felliniesque dimension. The Vatican is portrayed with all its contradictions, flaws and ambiguities, with an incumbent mantle of grotesque. The mood is completely detached from the intimate and gentle humour used by Nanni Moretti in We Have A Pope. This Holy Father is a megalomaniac.

At age 47, the new leader of the Catholic Church is arrogant, eccentric, and borderline when it comes to his religious ideas. Does he truly believe in God? In these first two episodes we get the feeling that his childhood as an orphan has pushed to think every man is alone in this world, without anyone to help him. And his message couldn’t be further from the brotherhood preached by Pope Francis.

Visually, The Young Pope, has Sorrentino’s oneiric trademark. The allegorical scenes, that are drenched with dream, open up to a variety of interpretations. We first get to meet Pius XIII when he crawls out of a mountain of sleeping babies, piled up on top of each other in St Mark’s square in Venice. Does this represent his birth as a Pontiff? Or Dante’s limbo, where unchristened children rest instead of going to Heaven? Is it our Young Pope’s limbo as a non-believing spokesperson of the Lord? Sorrentino doesn’t provide literal metaphors, rather a set of majestic and bombastic images that trigger multiple meanings and questions.

This is just one of the first nightmares Lenny confronts, in preparation of his first address to the faithful in St. Peter. In another dream he urges the masses to engage every single activity opposed by the Church, from gay marriage, to abortion. But despite his liberalism in these provocative daydreams, he has picked the name of Pius XIII. The choice seems to hint the intention of continuing in the footsteps of his predecessor Pius XII, a staunch opponent of Communism, who supported the Germans during World War II…to the extent that he was renamed “Hitler’s Pope.”

Lenny Berardo is an enigmatic and Mephistophelean man of God, who abuses power in a State whose dogma and moral imperative is the renunciation of power and selfless love towards one’s neighbor. By creating this character Sorrentino explores how faith can be searched for and lost; the inner struggle between the huge responsibility of the Head of the Catholic Church and the miseries of the simple man that fate chose as Pontiff.