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The Pontiff’s life

Pope Francis in Pope Francis – A Man of His Word.

Pope Francis in Pope Francis – A Man of His Word.

Pope Francis – A Man of his Word
4 stars
Director: Wim Wenders
Featuring: Pope Francis, Joe Biden, Daniele De Angelis
Duration: 96 mins
Class: U
KRS Releasing Ltd

Pope Francis – A Man of His Word, a documentary by acclaimed German filmmaker Wim Wenders, is less a biographical film than a vehicle for the former Cardinal of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, to espouse his ideas and teachings in the modern world; a world whose social and economic inequality, myriad war zones and environmental degradation are at the forefront of His Holiness’s thoughts.

Wenders and his team collated questions from people from all walks of life around the globe and put them to His Holiness, who then answers said questions himself mostly direct-to-camera. These are interspersed with footage of his papacy so far, from pilgrimages he has made to the various countries across the globe, to his work back home in the Vatican.

When elected in 2013, Cardinal Bergoglio was immediately known as the Pope of many firsts – the first Pope from South America, the first Jesuit and the first Pope, from 266 Popes throughout history, to choose the name Francis – after St Francis of Assisi.

Indeed, the documentary draws many parallels between the Pontiff and his namesake, the 12th century friar and preacher with radical ideas – from the desire to bring Christianity and Islam together to his eschewing of wealth and commitment to a life of poverty and simplicity via his passion for the environment and reverence towards Mother Nature.

His words and actions as illustrated here show a man of integrity, intelligence and compassion

Wenders unobtrusively narrates St Francis’s story in parallel to his main subject via grainily-filmed, dialogue-free, black and white sequences. These scenes may have come across as rather naff. But, in the hands of a filmmaker of Wenders’ experience and intellect, they serve as a valid illustration of the man who so clearly inspired the Pope. 

From the beginning of his Papacy it was immediately clear that Pope Francis was a man of the 21st century, adopting St Francis’ teachings about the environment and the coming together of different religions.

Testament to the former is his 2015 encyclical, dedicated to the dangers of climate change and the threats to the environment, presented against a backdrop of images projected onto the Vatican.  He has railed against what he describes as the “globalisation of indifference” towards the migrant crisis, spending time with migrants, many of whom – Muslims included – have embraced him.

He is equally at home with the Jewish community in Israel. Or with hardened criminals serving sentences in American prisons – a trip which included an address to Congress where he spoke vehemently against the arms trade.

Controversial issues are not avoided. His famous response: “Who am I to judge?” to the question of homosexuality marked him out as an all-embracing Pope, unafraid to tackle the more conservative element of the Church head-on.

As for the cycle of child abuse that has sullied the reputation of the Church all over the world (including here in Malta) for decades… well, I started to write this as he began his visit to Ireland amid the clamouring voices of the many, many victims of clerical abuse.

Yet again, the Pope has gone against the grain and not only spoken out for the need for the Church to atone for this most evil of sins, but has asked for forgiveness. 

Or course Pope Francis has his detractors, both within the Catholic faith and out of it, and cynics may view this as way too little way too late. While the documentary may not win over many converts, it is undeniable that his words and actions as illustrated here show a man of integrity, intelligence and compassion, determined to right the many wrongs he is conscious exist in the world.

As Wenders himself says: “In an era of deep distrust of politicians and people in power, when lies, corruption and fake news are the order of the day, our film shows us a man who lives what he preaches and who has gained the trust of people across the world, from all religious, cultural and social backgrounds. That’s why I think this is not just a film for Catholics or Christians... The pope, literally, has his arms wide open for everyone.”

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