‘Pope Francis: A Man of His Word’ is a great opportunity and a missed one
Directed by: Wim Wenders
Written by: Wim Wenders and David Rosier
Starring: Pope Francis
“Pope Francis: A Man of His Word” – “I think he might be the coolest pope ever.” – Conan O’Brien
O’Brien is not alone.
With his progressive stances on climate change, gay marriage, women in the church, and more, Pope Francis is helping bridge the gap between traditional Catholicism and life in 2018. Whether or not every individual Catholic church in the world is more accessible and flexible, well, at least this pope – whose papacy began in March 2013 - has set a new direction.
Sensible. Likable. Approachable.
These words all describe Pope Francis, at least from Catholics and non-Catholics who are not threatened by his beliefs.
Revolutionary might be another word.
There may have never been a pope like him, but in director Wim Wenders documentary, Pope Francis draws comparisons to a saint. Saint Francis of Assisi. The famous saint lived 800 years ago, and in a recent interview, Wenders said that Saint Francis and Pope Francis share three common principles: solidarity with the poor, respect for nature and peace with other religions.
Wenders defends this observation in two ways.
First, Pope Francis speaks right to the camera and directly explains his beliefs in a casual, relaxed setting. Second, Wenders shows the pope traveling all over the globe and speaking on the aforementioned three principles. Despite, this tremendous opportunity to listen to Pope Francis state his core values, this film plays loose with its narrative, and it unfortunately seems directionless and sometimes endless over the course of a long 96 minutes.
It’s not like the audience does not receive positive messages and a direct feed from this sensible, likable, approachable, and revolutionary world leader, because we do.
Pope Francis speaks out – with straight talk - on a number of topics. For instance, he worries about the lack of meaningful work in economically-challenged countries which can cause havoc on individual self-esteem and intrinsic dignity. Climate change and pollution bring him stress. He pleads that Mother Earth is not in balance, and “the world is mostly deaf” on the issue.
He also speaks to income inequality and greed and says, “No one can serve two masters. We either serve God, or we serve money.”
These are just a few of the many pearls of wisdom that Wenders’s film wonderfully and profoundly offers.
As much as these messages resonate, it is difficult to connect with the picture as a whole, as the film regularly volleys between a few minutes of Pope Francis’s valuable discourse and then shifts to his road trip footage that all seems to blend together without cohesive tissue.
Pope Francis travels to Brazil, Bolivia, Jerusalem, and Philadelphia, to just name a few locales, and big, smiling crowds greet him at every turn.
We definitely feel the love!
These individual moments inspire and simultaneously showcase the global popularity of this holy man, but collectively, these appearances feel like a repetitive concoction of his greatest hits, rather than for a designed purpose. The many, many appearances mostly fit the same pattern: Pope Francis looks out an airplane window, the plane lands, he walks towards a large crowd, greets some individual followers, and delivers a sermon. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Now, organically – through the solo discussions and B-roll from the road - the picture does lay out a solid case that Saint Francis and Pope Francis share thoughtful, altruistic traits, but through the prism of the recurring said pattern. Quite frankly, this particular Francis-Francis bond could be explained in 30 minutes, rather than an entire feature film, and when dedicating a movie to this particular pope, why not explore additional intriguing topics?
Pope Francis is the first pope from the Southern Hemisphere and the Americas, so why not interview experts about the previous exclusion, rather than just briefly mention it?
Pope Francis’s reformist stances beget both relief and controversy, so why not explore the arguments?
What do historians say about him? How do church leaders feel? What are John and Jane Q. Public’s thoughts? What makes Pope Francis tick, and what brought him to his beliefs?
“Pope Francis: A Man of His Word” really does not address these questions, but those answers will have to wait for a future movie. For now, we have a good opportunity and a missed one. That’s too bad, because this pope is really cool.
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.