A man in a detention center meets Pope Francis. (Focus Features)
MOVIE REVIEWBorn Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Pope Francis is the first of the 265 popes before him to be a Jesuit, to come from the Americas and one of the few to have taken the name Pope Francis, in honor of the Saint Francis of Assisi. In Wim Wender’s documentary, Pope Francis – A Man of His Word, the director shares some of the history of the Saint Francis for the uninitiated with some stark black and white vignettes that look as if they came from an old silent film. This is perhaps the most artistic approach to his film.
Instead of creating a biographical documentary about Pope Francis, Wender’s film is much like the Pope himself; to the point and without a lot of frills. Francis is a very interesting man to be sure, but the end result here left me wanting more. The majority of the film is footage taken from the Pope’s journeys around the world and speaking to large crowds. So instead of getting a lot out personal insight, we hear many of the man’s speeches.
It is amazing to see how the different nationalities welcome the Pope to their cities. While some will argue that they appear to be worshipping the man rather than God, many appear to be looking to him for hope. As a priest who chastises the rich and identifies with the poor (the polar opposite of many American prosperity preachers) it would seem that his messages wouldn’t be too popular, but just the opposite is true. Whatever your views are about the Pope, it becomes pretty clear throughout the film that he practices what he preaches shunning any extravagance.
The most moving images in this film are scenes taken from a men’s detention center where the Pope tells the men that God loves them and proceeds to wash their tattooed feet as tears roll down their cheeks. His message is so simple and yet so powerful. Another is a story that the Pope shares about a dying boy who wants nothing more than a phone call from the priest. Francis called the boy’s home a number of times and left messages for the boy before connecting with him which shows his dedication to his role.
As intriguing as Pope Francis is, A Man of His Word is actually pretty dull. It would have been nice to have seen more of what the Pope does on a daily basis and to learn more about his personal tastes. I mean, what does a Pope do when he’s not speaking to large crowds? The closest we get to this kind of information is when a child asks Francis why he wanted to become the pope, but that’s about it. For some, that will be enough.