Film Review: ‘Pope Francis: A Man of His Word’ is a Call For Compassion

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By every measure, the current Pope is unlike almost any that has come before him. Humble, uninterested in material possessions, and determined to have an open-armed policy to his faith, Pope Francis is a unique figure. His message of hope, good humor, and inclusion have struck a chord all over the world. Conservatives and Liberals alike look at him as a positive figure, and filmmaker Wim Wenders is fascinated by him too. With a shoestring budget and an invitation from the Vatican, Wenders conducted a number of interview with the Pope. Mixed with footage of the man at work, it makes up the documentary, “Pope Francis: A Man of His Word.” For anyone curious about this iconic figure, the movie lets his words speak for themselves.

Intended by Wenders to be a personal journey with the Pope, this documentary is more about what the man says that it is about who he is. If you just looked at his words and didn’t know who was speaking, you’d hardly think it was a religious figure. As much an environmentalist and crusader for peace, his platform, as it were, is that of a simply good man. Common sense would label him a moderate in every sense of the word, but in the harsh climate, we have currently, he’s as progressive as it gets.

Centered around a serious of interviews that Wenders conducts with the man, the doc looks at Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who took on the name of Francis when selected as Pope. From the moment he was selected, his message has been to fight poverty and hunger while embracing poverty within the office. A fascinating moment early on has him addressing his colleagues, urging them to change, to denounce overt wealth and an abundance of material goods. The look around the room is one of stunned confusion and silence. We see him around the world, meeting not just at holy grounds, but also at refugee camps, and prisons as well. In conversation with Wenders, who also narrates, Francis is passionate about his beliefs. Wenders ties him into his namesake, Saint Francis of Assisi, repeatedly showcasing how similar their messages are.

The main focus is on the pontiff’s ideas, an ideology which is downright revolutionary from the office he holds. Clearly more at home with the common man, Francis is very much the people’s Pope. When he addresses a Joint Session of Congress in the United States, he makes a proclamation to end gun sales and to build bridges, not walls. This was during the Barack Obama Administration, but anyone watching now will clearly see the parallels to the current divisive acts of Donald Trump. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that Francis is the antithesis of what the current leader stands for. It’s never explicitly said, but one has to assume it breaks his heart and boils his blood to see who America has in office.

There’s a sense watching this film that you really know who the Pope is. He’s funny, honest, and of simple tastes. There are no airs about the office. If anything, he seems very casual about religion. He’s clearly deeply religious, but the faith is not a simple solution for him. Doing good in the world is more important. Treating refugees with dignity and protecting the environment are huge causes to him. If this were a political documentary, it would seem preachy, ironically. Here, it simply seems like common sense.

Wim Wenders keeps it very simple here, visually. Co-writing (the interview questions and Saint Francis of Assisi segments) with David Rosier, Wenders wants it to be about the Pope. This is so much so that you don’t even hear his questions, just Francis’ answers. While this makes for a very focused documentary, it does make things a little bland. The doc feels long at 96 minutes, though it ends on a wonderful moment of humor from the Pope.

If you’re of the faith, “Pope Francis: A Man of His Word” will likely be a wonderful 90 minutes spent with a religious leader unlike any other. If you’re a non-believer like this writer is, there’s still plenty to grab on to. Francis even explicitly says that there’s room in his religion to reject God. If that’s not revolutionary from a Pope, it’s damn close. As documentaries go, it’s on the small and safe side, but it’s still a fascinating one to watch.

“POPE FRANCIS: A MAN OF HIS WORD” IS DISTRIBUTED BY FOCUS FEATURES AND OPENS IN THEATERS ON MAY 18.

GRADE: (★★★)