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The Young Pope

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Variety:

 

 

After casting Jude Law in the title role as a young conservative American pontiff, and Diane Keaton as a nun, the cast for Paolo Sorrentino-directed TV series “The Young Pope” has been rounded out with a slew of top international talent.

Joining the three-way Sky, HBO and Canal Plus papal production as prelates are:

 

James Cromwell, who will play Cardinal Michael Spencer, who is Lenny’s mentor; Silvio Orlando, a regular in Nanni Moretti movies, who is set for the role of Cardinal Voiello, the Secretary of State; and Scott Shepherd, who will play Cardinal Dussolier, from South America.

...

Per the press notes “The Young Pope” tells the controversial story of the beginning of the pontificate of Pius XIII, born Lenny Belardo. “A complex and conflicted character, so conservative in his choices as to border on obscurantism, yet full of compassion towards the weak and poor. He is a man of great power who is stubbornly resistant to the Vatican courtiers, unconcerned with the implications to his authority. During the series, Belardo will face losing those closest to him and the constant fear of being abandoned, even by his God. He is however not afraid of undertaking the millennial mission of defending that same God and the world representing Him.”

 

Describing the series in a statement Paolo Sorrentino said: ”The clear signs of God’s existence. The clear signs of God’s absence. How faith can be searched for and lost. The greatness of holiness, so great as to be unbearable when you are fighting temptations and when all you can do is to yield to them. The inner struggle between the huge responsibility of the Head of the Catholic Church and the miseries of the simple man that fate (or the Holy Spirit) chose as Pontiff. Finally, how to handle and manipulate power in a state whose dogma and moral imperative is the renunciation of power and selfless love towards one’s neighbour. That is what The Young Pope is about.”

 

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Deborah Young at THR:

Shot in mixed English and Italian, the miniseries is galvanized by a commandingly arch Jude Law as Lenny Belardo, who has just been elected Pope Pius XIII. Not only is he the first American Pope, he's only 47 years old, as well as arrogant, whimsical and hilariously destructive. How he ever got elected will no doubt be revealed in later episodes, but suffice it to say he comes off as a borderline anti-Christ not only in his power-mad dreams, but in all his dealings with the cardinals and the Curia.

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Sorrentino is becoming one of my favorite directors working today.  "The Great Beauty" is my top film of the new century, and "Youth" is nearly a masterpiece as well (it still brings tears to my eyes after 3 viewings).  So I can't wait for this to hit American shores.  

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The actual clips from this show floating on YouTube are weird. This is not as sober as the trailers make it appear.

I'm sure this show will drive our resident Catholics batty, but I'm interested. I don't put a lot of stock in Sorrentino's philosophical musings, but he's capable of delivering some intriguing aesthetic moments.

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Spoilers

Two episodes in and I'm digging it. This show isn't sober at all. It's quirky in some ways and downright weird in others. It has Diane Keaton as a nun who apparently sleeps in a shirt that says "I'm a virgin...but this is an old shirt." It's got Jude Law taking a long drag of a cigarette before declaiming "There's a new pope now." It has a kangaroo. Put simply, this show is a little bit bonkers in the best way.

It's also got some really good acting. There's Law, of  course (of course!) and he's good--icy and unpredictable. But my favorite bit of acting comes in Episode Two, when Law abruptly asks Cardinal Assente (Maurizio Lombardi) whether he, Assente, is gay. The camera lingers on Lombardi's face while it--I can't think of another phrase for it--melts, because Assente knows that the New Pope is ultra-conservative and he himself, Assente himself, is (in addition to being gay) a liberal, and therefore a threat to the incoming Pope's regime. And this scene--this shot--plays all of that across Assente's face for a space of time that feels uncomfortably long. It's a remarkable moment.

I've not caught up to or caught on to the philosophical stuff, yet. The New Pope privately says he doesn't believe in God, but he immediately says he was joking--and, honestly, Law's character is the kind of jerk who says things just to get a rise out of people before immediately withdrawing whatever he just said (he does it early in the episode, too, offering power to Cardinal Voiello before immediately rescinding the offer).

Superficially, The Young Pope plays like any number of Difficult Men shows--most obviously, like House of Cards. Whether it has anything else to offer remains to be seen, but I think it might. House of Cards is a pitch-black satire and takes itself far less seriously than its critics would suggest, but The Young Pope is something else--satire, I dunno, since I don't know how politicking works in the Vatican (don't even know how fake-politicking works; there is no West Wing for TYP to play against)--but it's definitely surreal in a way that HoC isn't. It also loves and respects its characters far more than HoC does (even Lennie. Maybe).

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Still liking this show. There's a stupid, stupid--and hilarious--song selection in the middle of the most recent episode that made me laugh out loud. And I'm actually starting to wonder whether Lenny isn't some sort of a saint, after all. Particularly given the previews for the next episode.

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After that finale, it's safe to say that I genuinely love this show. I'm almost sad there's going to be a second season, because these ten episodes seem to more or less cover all the ground they need to. I would worry about a second season taking the show into House of Cardinals territory, though of course I suppose I should have more faith in the director.

Jude Law, though--wow. He's absolutely mesmerizing. I've never really rated him one way or the other--I mean, I've liked some of his stuff, but I've never been in awe of any performance of his the way I am of this, his portrayal of Lenny Belardo/Pope Pius XIII (I should have searched later and seen that there was a "real" American Pope named Pius XIII, a schismatic one, who responded to the Second Vatican Council in a way that reminds me of Lenny).

So, yeah. A great show--slantwise and ambiguous in several ways, with a far lighter touch at characterization than one would expect. Lovely to look at, too.

Edited by NBooth

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Not watching this show, because no HBO, but this commentary from First Things' Matthew Schmitz is worth throwing into the mix, I think:

Quote

Paolo Sorrentino, who wrote and directed the series, does not seem to be a traditional Catholic. As with most recent treatments of faith, a little more religious literacy would have gone a long way. Nonetheless, The Young Pope reveals the exhaustion of attempts to make the Church attractive by conforming it to the world. Reveling in supposedly old-fashioned garments like the papal red shoes and wide-brimmed saturno, it shows how attractive an unapologetically traditional Catholicism can be....

As a filmmaker, Sorrentino is particularly alert to the power of images. “In the 60s,” says Pius, “the young people that protested in the streets spouted all kinds of heresies. All except one: power to the imagination. In that, they were correct.” He vows that his first public appearance will be a great visual event, a “dazzling image, so dazzling it blinds people.” For Sorrentino, the Church is most eloquent in its pomp and dumbshow.

 

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Yeah, I'm bummed out that there'll be a second season, since the first one ended perfectly.  No doubt The Young Pope will offend purists, but I thought it managed a decent tightrope walk between faith and skepticism.  Based on my recent read of God's Bankers, the behind the scenes view of the Vatican felt mostly plausible here.  And The Young Pope possesses the beauty, jarring oddness, and emotional power that Sorrentino has captured in his two most recent films.  In terms of performances, Jude Law delivers a superb performance that believably covers the full range of human emotion; and the supporting roles are managed excellently, too.  This is great TV.

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