Pope Francis: A Man of His Word
(France, 96 min.)
Dir. Wim Wenders
When documentary filmmakers or journalists agree to offer no negative opinions in exchange for complete access to a subject, that’s referred to as a “deal with the devil.” Pope Francis is not the Devil but whatever agreement Wim Wenders reached to direct this film certainly left him with nothing controversial or even vaguely confrontational to say about the current Holy Father. In exchange for creating a film with absolutely no bite to it, Wenders was able to interview the Pope at length and follow him on some of his glitzy global tours.
Pope Francis, the former Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, is clearly an articulate man. He talks with great passion about ecology, the negative effects of globalization and the need for everyone to have enough to eat. Wenders cleverly inserts questions from small audiences that were given access to the Pope. Many of those are quite basic—what any interviewer would call softball questions—which allows the Pope to hit back with “home run” answers. He can talk about climate change or accepting migrants into society and get back big cheers. The Pope is also quite strong on abuse and pederasty, claiming that he has a “zero tolerance” position on those matters. What we don’t get is Francis dealing with truly challenging issues like abortion and the unequal position of women in the church.
Wenders structures much of the film around St. Francis as an inspiration for the current Pope. We see black and white scenes shot like a silent film in which some of Francis’s great deeds as an idealistic leader are played out, always with the knowledge that he took a vow of poverty. (My old friend, the late documentary filmmaker Peter Wintonick, used to say that doc-makers also take that vow.) Pope Francis takes great pains to be driven in a small car and live in a tiny apartment. Admirable, of course, but does Wenders ever ask him if the Church’s wealth is now being broken up to distribute to the poor? Of course not. If he asked questions like that, he wouldn’t have been able to make this film.
Pope Francis is a very good infomercial for the Pope and the Church. Let’s hope that Wenders returns to genuine filmmaking soon.
Pope Francis: A Man and His Word opens in theatres May 18.