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Pope Francis: A Man of His Word Movie Review

Pope Francis: A Man of His Word (2018) movie poster Pope Francis: A Man of His Word

Theatrical Release: May 18, 2018 / Running Time: 96 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Wim Wenders / Writers/Producers: Wim Wenders, David Rosier

Tagline: Hope is a universal message.


Though "Man" comes before "Word" in the subtitle, the newest documentary from Wim Wenders (Pina, Buena Vista Social Club) is far more interested in the latter than the former in its portrait of the Roman Catholic Church's current leader.
Wenders' film opens with a reflection on a figure from eight hundred years ago, Francis of Assisi, from whom the Argentine bishop takes his papal name and inspiration.

While acknowledging the mystery of time, Wenders places Francis' papacy into context, as 150 species die off every day. It turns out that this current pope, the first from the Americas and the first Jesuit, is much in tune with the world around him. Much of the film unfolds with Pope Francis' conscientious words, whether delivered in speeches or in an exclusive interview with the filmmaker (almost always in his native Spanish with English subtitles translating). We get very little in the way of background on the former Jorge Mario Bergoglio, simply a clip of him speaking at a 1999 gathering in Buenos Aires and inviting the large crowd to embrace one another.

Pope Francis (right) blesses a man in an American detention center in Wim Wenders' documentary "Pope Francis: A Man of His Word."

Instead of biography, we get philosophy and policy. Pope Francis calls the world to respect the planet in a science-backed gesture that caught the attention of non-Catholics as well. He also declares, again and again, that living in wealth is at odds with Jesus' teachings. The Pope leads by example, his rejection of material possessions and humble existence of a "Mr. Bean" car and simple apartment embracing the poverty under which his namesake chose to live. Francis of Assisi's shared love of nature is also conveyed in some black and white Academy Ratio recreations that you might well mistake for clips from an actual old film.

Warm and charismatic, Pope Francis says all the right things, advocating for the importance of including women and gay people in society (that these questions are even posed of him might disarm some viewers), encouraging forgiveness,
and reminding a joint Congress session of the Golden Rule. Wenders shows the Pope traveling to the Phillipines after a typhoon, refugee camps, the Holy Land, and the 9/11 memorial. He meets with world leaders, from Obama to Putin. The film mostly avoids politicizing anything concretely, although a clear undermining of wall-building does make the cut.

Pope Francis doesn't set out to convert anyone and it doesn't really paint a complex portrait of its subject. It merely celebrates a man who has the unenviable task of trying to do right for the modern world while belonging to a tradition whose practices have had to evolve over millennia. Wenders is less interested in Francis' faith than in his views and words. Perhaps that will disappoint those entering with hopes of a rare positive film portrayal of Catholicism, but it also makes the documentary more accessible to the billions of nonbelievers who share this planet and should share the same concerns as its focal subject.

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Reviewed May 18, 2018.

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