The New Pope (2020) (Review)

The Bible and the iPhone

“The Bible doesn’t have to be like an iPhone”, because that means it could be removed at any time by an upgraded version. Thus, the relationship with the scripture, which must keep its original formula, becomes a strictly personal issue, depending on the needs of each one of ous. And any attempt to invoke the illusion of communion under the sign of a rigid decalogue becomes an act of credulity.

The sequel series “The New Pope (2020) focuses largely on this neuralgic point, continuing its naughty and outrageous narrative formula imposed by the previous “The Young Pope (2016). If the young pope Jude Law convinced the fans from the first series with the versatility with which he breaks Christian clichés, then they will adore the new pope embodied by John Malkovich, who takes to another level the refinement with which he portrayed, more than 30 years ago, the Vicomte de Valmont.

In the series released in 2020, the intrigues and sins that lurk in the heart of the contemporary Vatican are getting more and more multi-layered, while shocking old-fashioned sensibilities with its extensive exuberant or decadent images, adorned with strobe lights and techno music with tribal touches. Indeed, the strident contrasts between the general appearances of the papacy universe and the cinematic imagery are a representative trademark for Paolo Sorrentino, whose naturalness leads us to witness, in fact, a very authentic portrayal of this clan. This term is not used in a purely coincidental way, as the hierarchical structures captured by the Italian director often follow the requirements specific to a mafia family in which power games are fuelled by blackmail, threats or meticulously thought out political strategies.

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Speaking of which… in an interview, Martin Scorsese confessed that in the village where he grew up the young boys had two possibilities: either to become priests or to become gangsters. Few managed to become both. Well, Paolo Sorrentino’s characters mostly tick this case. However, the viewer doesn’t witness bloody retaliations as if they were imagined by a writer like Mario Puzo. The carnage scenarios are replaced here with acts of lust that capture, through a glossy-baroque filter, the Catholic high-life in a lush image where elements of Renaissance art and details from consumerist extravagance coexist. Likewise, Christian humility is framed by the flashes of paparazzi eager to find out the dirty secrets of the chosen ones. This fascinating dissonance reminiscent of the sudden transition from choral ambience to orgiastic cries – “The Great Beauty” feature’s beginning – seems to extract its substance from the same imagery used by artists like David LaChapelle. For Sorrentino, these traits are due to his admiration for the work of Federico Fellini who, likewise, is a follower of a cinematic aesthetic halfway between refinement and excess, drawing over the world eager for celebrity the desperate journey of a protagonist in search of a true epiphany. In fact, “The Great Beauty” is an impeccably executed replica of the famous “Otto e mezzo”

But, returning to the 2020 series, despite the overflowing consumerism providing consistency to this vanity fair, things are not always pushed by the director in an extreme area, reducing the characters to some linear typologies. Perhaps this is the most uncomfortable aspect since the series forces the viewer to give up the rigid angel-devil / holy-sinner dichotomies inspired by the medieval mentality. Hence, the ambitions of the characters are always overshadowed by acts of kindness; the good can only be achieved after a systematic breaking-the-law attitude. In the same way, the admiration for God’s new emissaries on earth becomes a mediated act that provokes general hysteria, while the archaic relationship between saint and disciple equals that between a rock star and a fan.

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In fact, the new Messiah will not be a carpenter. Most likely, he will be a multi-award-winning singer, familiar with the latest gadgets, enjoying stage diving, giving autographs, while his Instagram profile gathers a record number of followers. Likewise, future apostles will be replaced by groupies or hooligans who will write a new testament directly on the wall of their own Facebook pages. Still, the great question is whether this New Testament will be written or not using an iPhone.




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