Pope Francis is different. At least different to other popes. The first Jesuit pope, the first pope from the Americas (he was born in Buenos Aires) and the first to take the name Francis, the current pope basis his life and his teachings on Francis of Assisi, proclaiming the church should be “a poor church for the poor.” He urges us to reject the consumerist society and stop the exploitation of the earth. He cares little about your religion, your gender, your sexual orientation: we’re all the same and we all want one thing: to live a happy life. That’s a message to be getting on with and German director Wim Wenders lets him do just that…
So this is a real surprise – for those of an anti-religion bent this is a pope you can get on board with. A man of his word, as the subtitle suggests, Francis doesn’t live in the opulent rooms in the Vatican that other Popes occupied. His touring car is your typical five-door runaround. He gets off the Popemobile to talk to those who come out to see him. One nun calls him charismatic and it’s hard to disagree. The man has appeal.
Wenders’ camera follows him as he visits migrant camps, American prisons, African hospitals, makes speeches to the UN and others (during one such American discourse I could have sworn I saw Mark Wahlberg behind him on stage). He opens his arms to different religions, meeting with Jews and Muslims and Hindus. He promotes gender equality and acceptance for the LGBT community. He also has a zero tolerance for paedophile priests, calling for them to be immediately defrocked and for the bishops to assist the parents of the abused children in taking the case to a civil court. That’s certainly a turn up for the books. He also reserves some ire for gated communities as they are built on exclusion.
But to call this a documentary in the purest sense is a push. Wenders (Paris, Texas, Wings of Desire) is more an editor for a public service announcement here, cobbling together footage from Francis’ early years (a speech when he was Archbishop in the Argentine capital shows that he’s been on message since the get-go), current interviews, and generally lets the camera run to allow Francis to get his message across. There are no dissenting voices, no different opinions. The biggest artistic input Wenders makes is a questionable dramatisation of Francis of Assisi’s life, complete with a glitchy black and white silent style (because it was a really long time ago, see).
A timely release here in the run up to Pope Francis’ visit.