Pope Francis: A Man of His Word
This feels like the film Wim Wenders wanted to make. That the Vatican commissioned it appears incidental, as the director genuinely and completely lauds their current sovereign – one of many firsts – Pope Francis. The subtitle, A Man of His Word, suggests deference, but this isn’t quite a hagiography, more a focused shower of praise. We’re told very little new information, really: the old Argentine is more moderate than previous incarnations, he speaks with clear oratorical skill – as if talking to a child – and he doesn’t like bad things.
Since his papacy began in 2013, the 266th head of the Catholic church has spoken on current affairs with urgency and a broader wish to modernise his position, weighing in on income inequality, the refugee crisis and the perils of consumerism. This all bodes well for progressive politics but speaks less to his social conservatism, one bound up in the indelible prejudices and traditions of Catholicism. On economics, he is fierce and eloquent; on gay rights, his clarity slips a little with vague gesturing towards people’s freedom to choose. Thanks for that.
Elegantly shot and presented despite the German filmmaker’s awkward and overwrought narration, this documentary shows official visits and addresses to Congress while providing a firsthand interview with the man himself. Pope Francis often leans in close to the camera, a cheeky smile traversing his lips, speaking slowly and intently. It’s hard to disagree with much of what he says. The occasional reminder to be basically decent isn’t unwelcome. But there’s a sense that his thinking may not be particularly profound, regardless of his humility and good humour.
Wenders infrequently allows for a wry eye. When his subject cites a “spiritual Alzheimer’s” the cameras pan to a moody, uninterested bishop and his claim not to proselytise seems to hang in the air. The director also examines the influence of St Francis of Assisi, who appears in half-baked, clumsy scenes as an apparent intellectual roadmap for the pontiff, splitting up the well-mined documentary footage.
One of the clips from 1999 is intriguing. Then Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the pope speaks publicly in his home country, encouraging the crowd to hug and embrace one another. This moment suggests another tack, one that traces the leader’s trajectory towards the top job, one that observes the development of his thought and ambitions. The film doesn’t oblige; we’re merely offered a confirmation, supplemented by an obligation and a hope to do more, strangely presented in the form of a valedictory victory lap.
Pope Francis: A Man of His Word is released in select cinemas on 10th August 2018.
Watch the trailer for Pope Francis: A Man of His Word here: