Wim Wen­ders’ new doc is an ab­sorb­ing look at Pope Fran­cis

Waterloo Region Record - - Nightlife - GARY THOMP­SON The Philadel­phia Inquirer

In “Pope Fran­cis: A Man of His Word,” an as­so­ciate says the pope has risen from Ar­gen­tinian priest to Vat­i­can leader to in­ter­na­tional icon be­cause he is “the kind of per­son who speaks to ev­ery­one.”

In Wim Wen­ders’ new doc­u­men­tary, he speaks di­rectly to you. Or that’s the feel­ing any­way. Wen­ders fol­lows the pope around the world, but punc­tu­ates that globe-trot­ting with some riv­et­ing close-ups of Fran­cis star­ing into the cam­era (or is it your soul?) and of­fer­ing spir­i­tual guid­ance.

He’s a per­sua­sive fel­low. Af­ter lis­ten­ing to him speak of mankind’s obli­ga­tion (and each in­di­vid­ual’s duty) to end the ex­ploita­tion of Mother Earth, cou­pled with Wen­ders’ footage of the gi­gan­tic ocean garbage gyre, I felt my plas­tic Diet Coke bot­tle scald­ing my hand.

Wen­ders seems most moved by the pope’s de­scrip­tion of Mother Earth as “plun­dered” and “abused,” and much of the movie fo­cuses on “eco­log­i­cal dam­age,” borne most heav­ily by the poor —poverty be­ing the other sub­ject most dis­cussed in the film.

“A Man of His Word,” though, is not a lec­ture. It con­veys the pope’s con­cerns, cer­tainly, but it also con­veys his charm —his gen­tle, per­sonal man­ner, his sense of hu­mor (he quotes from the St. Thomas More joke book), his “charisma.”

This de­rives from his def­er­en­tial man­ner. Fran­cis de­scribes him­self as “an apos­tle of the ear,” and says it is his role to be a hum­ble lis­tener. His deeds match his words. Wen­ders’ cam­era finds him among the poor in many re­gions of the world (Buenos Aires, the hur­ri­cane-rav­aged Philip­pines, Cur­ran-Fromhold Cor­rec­tional), lis­ten­ing and wash­ing feet.

The pope coun­sels against pros­e­ly­tiz­ing, but he does show skill in the art of per­sua­sion. His ar­gu­ments for bet­ter stew­ard­ship of the en­vi­ron­ment, drawn from his en­cycli­cal “Care for Our Com­mon House,” are as rea­son­able as they are pas­sion­ate. He links this stew­ard­ship with a call for an abate­ment of con­sumerism, and sets him­self as an ex­am­ple —es­chew­ing pa­pal pomp for a mod­est apart­ment, choos­ing the hum­ble garb of a par­ish priest.

The pope has changed the im­age of the Church not by mak­ing sub­stan­tial re­vi­sions to doc­trine, but by chang­ing pri­or­i­ties —di­rect­ing spir­i­tual re­sources to ecol­ogy, poverty, in­equal­ity. When the ques­tion of ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity comes up (dur­ing in­ter­face with the press corps), we hear his fa­mous an­swer, “Who am I to judge?”

We won­der if Wen­ders, too, has made choices about pri­or­i­ties. When the pope talks about the “cul­ture of waste” as he has in other set­tings, he’s link­ing it to his fierce op­po­si­tion to abor­tion, a topic that re­mains off cam­era here. Did it come up? Wen­ders did ask the pope about the Church’s sex abuse scan­dals, and gets a re­sponse.

Still, we sense that Wen­ders uses his close-ups of Fran­cis fairly and ef­fi­ciently. And spar­ingly, so the footage re­tains its power. Less en­gag­ing is the black-and-white (shot on vin­tage cam­eras) film within a film, re­count­ing the life of St. Fran­cis of As­sisi, the pope’s name­sake and in­spi­ra­tion. There is scant biog­ra­phy of the pope, and a lit­tle too much of St. Fran­cis, so while the movie is not a ser­mon, there are mo­ments that leave you fid­get­ing in your pew.


In this photo taken with slow shut­ter speed, Pope Fran­cis waves to the crowd as he ar­rives for his weekly gen­eral au­di­ence in St. Peter's Square at the Vat­i­can.

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