Pope Francis: A Man of His Word (2018)

Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on May 17, 2018 @ tonymacklin.net.

Pope Francis: A Man of His Word is the quintessential anti-Trump film.

As such, ironically it probably won't appeal to the majority of American Catholics.

The Pew Center says that 52% of Roman Catholics voted for Trump in the 2016 election. 60% of white Catholics voted for Trump.

They voted in favor of Trump's values, not those of Pope Francis. It seems that American Roman Catholics would vote Francis out of office.

[A personal caveat: in the 2016 election I voted, "None of the Above." Francis wasn't running.]

In the documentary Pope Francis: A Man of His Word - in personal interviews with noted German director Wim Wenders - Francis espouses his unshakable values. The values of Francis and Donald Trump are unalterably, diametrically opposed.

Francis foremost believes fervently in empathy and decency. They are defining qualities in his character.

The Pope is anti-wealth, pro-science, pro-immigration, pro-the poor, and pro-environmental care. He says he is not going to see the movie about him. Imagine that. He is well-read and quotes Dostoyevsky. Trump doesn't read and quotes Hannity. Trump and the Irish are against immigration.

In the film, when Pope Francis addresses a joint session of congress in Washington, there are further ironies. John Boehner and Joe Biden sit behind him. Both are Roman Catholics. Previously standing behind him is a smiling Kevin McCarthy, another Catholic.

Also watching intently as Francis speaks is Roman Catholic Paul Ryan. But Ryan chooses to follow the gospel according to Ayn Rand.

Republican Catholics Boehner, McCarthy, and Ryan listen to the Pope, then go on to vote against his values. Such is politics. Make America grate again.

Each age redefines its icons. The work of Shakespeare was emasculated during the Victorian Era.

In the 21st century in the USA, Jesus has been transformed from Prince of Peace and Defender of the Weak. He's now wised up and joined the money-changers.

Pope Francis: A Man of His Word captures the vision of Francis. Francis is the first Pope named Francis; he took his name in honor of Francis of Assisi. Born in Argentina, he is the first Pope from the Americas. And he is the first Pope who is a Jesuit - which speaks to his intelligence.

In the film we watch Pope Francis riding in his scaled-down Popemobile through a celebration on a Brazilian street. We see him as he visits a Jewish Holocaust memorial and stands before Jerusalem's Western Wall. We witness him speaking before a gaudy circle of cardinals, some with very dour expressions. We see him visit a Children's Hospital in Africa and a prison in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Francis is absolute in his condemnation of priests who committed abuse. "Zero tolerance," he says adamantly.

And we hear his thoughts on the suffering that humanity endures.

In an interview on a plane speaking to media, he responds positively to a question about gays.

There is little background about Francis given in the film. There is a comment by a nun, whom he knew when he was younger. He recognized her in the massive crowd lining the street as he passes by. She tells how he stopped, got out of his Popemoblie, and greeted her. It was a phenomenal experience for her.

Director Wenders renders a bland voice-over at times, but his focus is to let the Pope speak for himself, and he does admirably.

One subtlety is in two scenes when the Pope is speaking to different audiences. We see two young women who are paying attention elsewhere. One has a cell phone, and in another scene a young woman is looking down, probably concentrating on something on the internet, paying no attention to the Pope who is speaking. It's a sly comment on modern society.

The one glaring flaw in Pope Francis: A Man of His Word is the weak recreation of St. Francis of Assisi in pedestrian footage.

Late film critic James Agee, who had the most empathy of any film critic ever, would love Pope Francis, but he'd hate the listless artifice of the footage of St. Francis of Assisi in the film.

Agee, who was as empathetic as Pope Francis, wrote about his experiences living with poor sharecroppers in Alabama in his nonfiction classic, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941). It only sold 600 copies when it was first released, but it now has reached the status of a masterwork.

Agee was devoted to authenticity, and like St. Francis he was in a constant search for the spiritual.

Pope Francis: A Man of His Word reveals a rarity: a man who is both religious - and spiritual.

© 2000-2019 Tony Macklin