'Pope Francis: A Man of His Word' Film Review
by Will Lindus
Disclaimer: I am not Catholic. Truth told, I don’t really adhere to any religious ideologies. Historically, I’ve been critical of the Catholic Church’s stance on certain social and political issues, as well as its role in the cover up of child sexual abuse cases. That said, I’m also cognizant of the positive impact that religion and Catholicism can bring to an individual’s life. You may ask: why lead with this? I think it is naive to believe that any review of Pope Francis: A Man of His Word can be completely divorced from the worldview of the author. We live in the real world, where biases creep in to the way we view everything we interact with, and I feel it only fair to provide my own background before diving into the review so that you can take my thoughts with a huge grain of salt.
Perhaps the most compelling aspect of Pope Francis: A Man of His Word is the amount of access that Oscar-nominated documentarian Wim Wenders has to the Pope himself. The film is essentially a ‘talking head’ documentary intercut with archival footage and gorgeous landscape cinematography, just with the primary ‘talking head’ being the leader of the most powerful institution in the world. It is impressive just how much time Wenders was granted to spend with the Pope during his interview, as well as the number of topics the two were able to cover. From environmental issues to the Pope’s reputation as being a bit of a renegade compared to many of his predecessors, Pope Francis has a little bit to say about just about everything, and what he has to say is (for the most part) inspiring and welcoming.
This access might also account for one of the faults of the film. Sometimes, when a filmmaker gets unfettered access to a particularly influential subject, the filmmaker becomes star-struck and defers entirely to the subject. A lot of the topics that Pope Francis discusses feel superficial and steeped in platitudes - uplifting words, sure, but at no time does the Pope feel really challenged during this interview. For example, an archival video shows Pope Francis telling a reporter that, essentially, God loves everyone, including homosexuals. The point is made to highlight how radical Pope Francis is in his views compared to the stance of the Catholic Church itself. However, no follow-up was done, particularly on his stance that marriage is between one man and one woman, or on the fact that he has toyed at the idea of civil unions being an acceptable compromise for LGBTQ persons. With each of his stances, from the role of the Church to LGBTQ issues to climate change and more, we hear a very filtered, flattering, and unfortunately surface-level view of Pope Francis. For a film that tries to establish just how radical his views are, I would have liked to have seen them tested so that we could truly get a measure of the man and his convictions.
That said, the film itself is loaded with artistic and technical talent, as is to be expected from director Wim Wenders. Interstitial shots of clouds or rays of sunlight shining through ancient church columns provide for breathtaking imagery that not only impress in the moment, but also speak to the grandeur of the Church and the reach of the papacy. Even the close-up shots of Pope Francis are crisp, clear, and beautifully shot.
Bottom Line: In many ways, Pope Francis: A Man of His Word is a good documentary, with a compelling and inspiring message and beautiful cinematography. While it is frustrating at times, especially when a topic needs a bit more depth, it is ultimately a ‘feel good’ documentary that is informative for me as someone with very little personal exposure to Catholicism. Mileage will vary dramatically on this film based on your religious beliefs and experiences, of course.
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