Review: Pope Francis: A Man of His Word
by Marina Richter
- CANNES 2018: Wim Wenders returns with a surprisingly one-dimensional documentary on the supreme pontiff
Pope Francis is probably the most-loved supreme pontiff in modern history, a man whose modest way of life and alleged open-mindedness have gained him admiration far beyond the Catholic community. His words are heard, they garner respect from believers, atheists and people of other persuasions, and they are often found quoted in the media and on social networks. His rise to the post of head of the Catholic Church in 2013 caused a sensation, not only because he was the first person from the Americas to be appointed Pope and the first Jesuit to bear that title, but also because he chose the name Francis, inspired by Francis of Assisi, one of the most influential religious figures since the beginning of Christianity.
Wim Wenders didn't hesitate for one second when former Vatican press officer Monsignor Dario Vigano contacted him with an unusual invitation to make a film about the newly appointed Pope, Pope Francis: A Man of His Word [+see also:
film profile], which is now showing as a Special Screening at the Cannes Film Festival. Using the “Interrotron” – a system consisting of two teleprompters connected to two cameras, with one recording the subject and the other feeding the interviewer's prompter – for a series of sit-down interviews with Pope Francis, Wenders created a feeling of immediate proximity, as if the interviews were taking place right there between the archive footage, travelogues and diverse speeches that Francis has given on environmental issues, world poverty and refugee crises in various institutions of international importance. The Pope’s eyes look straight at the audience, his head slightly tilted to one side, always grinning a friendly smile, almost inviting us to jump into the conversation.
On one hand, his dedicated fight against poverty, greed and consumerism, his support for workers, and his open calls to save the environment, avert war and support refugees are crucial in understanding him as a person, as are the three T’s that he believes will change the world for the better: trabajo (job), tierra (soil) and techo (roof). Wenders' film also shows us that the Pope has renounced wealth, opting to live in a modest apartment outside Vatican City, wishing to be ethically closer to those who live in poverty. Beyond this, there is little in terms of personal details about the pontiff. Wenders' documentary creates an emptiness, often feeling more like a promotional reel than a portrait of a man. There is only one clip of archival footage that is more than five years old (1999), showing the Pope as Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, addressing the masses. His upbringing, relatives, education, friends and personal influences all remain a mystery. Instead of portraying Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Wenders chooses to draw (sometimes over-the-top) parallels between the Pope and Francis of Assisi, relying on faux black-and-white silent-movie scenes featuring the legendary saint that he shot with a hired actor. It is a surprisingly one-dimensional piece for a director who has previously regaled us with documentaries such as Notebook on Cities and Clothes (1989), Buena Vista Social Club (1999) and The Salt of the Earth [+see also:
film profile] (2014).
The film is an Italian-Swiss-German-French co-production by Centro Televisivo Vaticano, Célestes Images, Solares Fondazione delle Arti, Neue Road Movies, Decia Films, Fondazione Solares Suisse and PTS Art’s Factory. The USA’s Focus Features has the international rights.
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