L’Ultima Popstar starts silently; it quietly creeps up on you, building itself gradually, seemingly harmlessly. Nature’s sounds start mixing with some human movement, machines with birds, as something big seems to be brewing. Is it a concert? Some kind of a festival perhaps? Little by little, staff, security, crew and finally fans start picking up speed and growing in numbers. Then queues build up, as each person is enthusiastically handed some logo scarves at the entrance. They all automatically brainstorm ways to sport them – around the neck, as a belt, bracelet, headband. They’re hyped, this is definitely the place to be today. And then, a Cross. A big Cross in the middle of the stage.
Claudio Casazza, Carlo Prevosti and Stefano Zoja build up an atmosphere and give their documentary film a title that suggests to whoever doesn’t know anything about it, that it’s going to be about a massive live concert. And sure enough, as the anticipation rises and the spirits follow, we catch ourselves trying to guess whose gig this could be. As all ages and types of people seem to be this someone’s fans. It turns out it’s God and his spokesperson, the Pope.
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Papa Francesco is making an appearance in Milan tonight and so people from all corners of the country rush to repeat Kyrie Eleison in complete agreement. Of course this doesn’t prevent some from skipping queues, trying to get ahead and getting into arguments about the usual who was where first. Just like rock fans, what comes first right now is getting a good spot at the very front, so forget turning the other cheek. And then of course there are those who are all work and no play, praying, chanting, exchanging religious opinions and facts or reading articles online that support that the Pope is indeed godsent.
All this is of course happening with the most mismatched commercial music playing through speakers in the background and the usual music festival routines, from bohemian outfits, to lying on blankets, unwrapping the sandwiches, drifting off, taking selfies and sharing them manically. A billboard writes “on you can find all the photos, videos and articles of the day”, while a woman confirms that the Pope wasn’t chosen by humans, but it was the Holy Spirit that chose him, really.
L’Ultima Popstar has so many slyly hilarious moments – keep an eye out for the woman who is struggling to set up her chair and get her perfect little corner ready, before adjusting the scarf around her head and asking a young man on the blanket opposite to take a photo of her. She poses and then of course scrutinises the result. The comedy is so subtle, but oh so there and brilliant.
To a non religious viewer the footage is so absurd and obviously comedic – perhaps as much as for the filmmakers themselves. Their timing is perfect and they fully know what makes a great moment. Their mockery of religion’s commercial aspect and the faithfuls’ exaggeration is very discreetly but effectively communicated and it reminded me of when I visited Cuba and found that Che Guevara beach towels, earrings and even lip balms were being sold. I wondered whether that didn’t defeat the purpose. I guess it depends on what the purpose is. In the case of this massive get-together the purpose seems to be directing itself towards profit, so it isn’t defeated at all.
I don’t know how many of these people are true believers – there are many obviously desperate to believe, when others seem to just be there for the fun of the experience. This is more like Italy’s version of The Super Bowl than anything else. Hot dogs keep flowing, merchandise sold in bulk, Papa Francesco t-shirts coming in all sizes – the worshipping reaches such unreal heights that he’d better have been chosen by the Holy Spirit itself if he doesn’t want to let his fans down.
If you do get your hands on L’Ultima Popstar, pay attention to the closeups – that’s where a big part of the entertainment is. People just waiting for hours under the sun, getting increasingly eager to see him. Then Holy music breaking out, the necessary choirs, and a mere mortal introducing the Last Popstar, before we see him appearing on the giant screen. Absolute silence, everything stopping for a moment. The time has come. He speaks.
Watch the trailer for L’Ultima Popstar here: