See Sick

‘We Have A Pope’

“Off, off, you lendings!” cries King Lear as he strips himself of the royal robes and reduces himself to the state of an “unaccommodated man,”  living with the rest of unprivileged humanity. He’s deranged when he does this, but in many myths and fairy tales, kings, counts, and caliphs shed their identities with cool-headed deliberation: they want to become wiser rulers by getting to know the ruled. The disguised potentate keeps reappearing in drama and literature. Posing as a priest, the Duke of Vienna in Measure for Measure witnesses the harm his harsh laws have wrought; Tsar Peter the Great, in the hugely popular nineteenth-century operetta Zar und Zimmermann, helps young lovers while pretending to be a carpenter; and in the opening episode of the ’70s TV series Lou Grant, the hero, a newly hired editor, walks through his newsroom to take the pulse of the reporters before they realize who he is.

But this myth doesn’t suit most modern political stories. Democratic heads of state have pollsters to gauge public opinion, and totalitarian rulers answer public rumblings with gunfire. So it was a stroke of genius for Italian writer-director-actor Nanni Moretti to realize that there is still one supreme,...

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About the Author

Richard Alleva has been reviewing movies for Commonweal since 1990.