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Review of the HBO series, ‘The Young Pope’

The Young Pope

THE Young Pope’ is an HBO ten-episode series that is definitely food for thought for us Catholics. This is pure fiction but it’s worth watching for many reasons, foremost of which is that Jude Law gives an astounding performance in the title role of a young cardinal in New York, Lenny Belardo, who becomes the first American Pope as Pius XIII.

His election is a big surprise as the original favorite for the position is Cardinal Spencer (James Cromwell), his very own mentor who becomes bitter when he lost in the papal election. Lenny learns from Cardinal Voiello (Silvio Orlando), the Vatican’s very traditional Secretary of State, that intrigues and machinations in the college of cardinals blocked Spencer’s elections because he’s perceived as ultra conservative.

They opted to vote for Lenny, who’s only in his 40s, thinking he’ll be a mere figurehead and they can easily manipulate him as their puppet. But it turns out that Lenny has a head of his own. He smokes, swears, works out in the gym, is hard-headed and just wants to shake things up.

And he is even more radically conservative than Spencer. In his first address as Pope, he challenges liberal traditions and practices in the Vatican, taking the church into an ultra conservative direction, causing an upheaval in and out of the Vatican.

He shuns publicity and refuses his pictures to be taken by anyone or any image of his being used in any form of merchandise to help augment Vatican’s income. “I do not have an image,” he proclaims. “I am no one. Only Christ exists!” So he wants everything only for the greater glory of God and no one else.

His main adviser is Sister Mary (Diane Keaton), a nun who raised him in an orphanage with a fellow orphan, Andrew Dussolier (Scott Shepherd), who himself becomes a cardinal in Honduras. Lenny has serious mommy and daddy issues because he cannot accept that his parents, who are hippies, just willingly abandoned him as a little boy. He admits that his radical religious views resulted from this and it’s his goal to meet his parents again.

Lenny is very dogmatic and demands total obeisance to God. “I don’t want any part-time believers,” he stresses. “I want great love stories. I want fanatics for God. Because fanaticism is love.” He tells people that they have forgotten God and that it is not up to God to prove His existence but it’s up to them to prove that God does not exist.

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He is against homosexuality, refuses same sex marriages, wants to expel gay and pedophile priests from the church, shuns divorce and refuses confession to women who had an abortion. The other cardinals say his overbearing views will only alienate a lot of believers in the Catholic church and they plot his overthrow.

When Esther (Ludivine Sagnier), the wife of a Swiss guard, becomes close to him, his Machiavvelian conspirators follow them to take compromising pictures they might use against him. But it turns out Lenny just prays for Esther to conceive as she is childless. And she does eventually have a baby. More backstabbing obstructions and schemes are thrown Lenny’s way but somehow, he manages to elude all of them.

The series is written and directed by Paolo Sorrentino, the Italian auteur whose “The Great Beauty” won the best foreign language film Oscar in 2013. “The Young Pope” is so beautifully mounted and carefully crafted (Vatican interiors were recreated for key scenes, including the Sistine Chapel and its famous paintings) that it is just visually stunning and spectacular, with its humor mordantly funny.

Sorrentino spices up the thought-provoking series with scenes of disturbing surreal and feverish dreams, showing male and female nudity, and scenes of lavish church pageantry to the tune of modern electronic music. There are other layered elements that are left up for you to interpret yourself.

Someone sends a kangaroo to the Pope and he allows the huge animal to jump around the Vatican’s gardens. Diane Keaton as Sister Mary is seen wearing a shirt that says: “I’m a virgin, but this is an old shirt.” No doubt some Catholic diehards will find it all subversive.

Through it all, Jude Law is obviously having a blast playing the preening pope who admits that he knows he is incredibly handsome and has a cold and calculating stare. He can be cynical, arrogant and petulant in wanting to rock the boat, but still come out very sympathetic and charming. He sizzles devilishly in the scenes where he insults and humiliates his deceitful secretary of state. Needless to say, we really had fun watching “The Young Pope”. And we’re eager to watch its sequel, even if Jude Law is no longer there.

Publication Source :    People's Journal
Mario Bautista
Former member: Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino (Urian)