The Two Popes

2019 TELLURIDE FILM FESTIVAL: As a film-enthusiast, or even a casual viewer of the medium, we often can be our own worst enemies, concerning expectations on what could and will be for audiences.  Director Fernando Meirelles, the acclaimed and Oscar-nominated director of “City of God” and “The Constant Gardener,” may have tapped into his most personal and emphatic piece to date with “The Two Popes.”  Precisely and sensitively confronted by two affecting performances from Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins, on the easel of the year’s most spirited and lively scripts by Anthony McCarten, the film is an undeniable triumph that very few movies will be able to achieve this year.

The Two Popes,” inspired by actual events, tells the story of Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins) and Bishop Jorge Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce), who would go on to becomes the new pope, and their conversations regarding the future of Christianity and how it should be directed under the thumb of scrutiny and mistrust from its believers.

The decisions and battles for filmmakers have always appeared to be “words versus visuals.” How much can an audience endure a conversation or discussion about something before an “event” or “action” must take place for it to pay off for them? Anthony McCarten constructs a linguistic symphony for the ages. Pryce and Hopkins’ bring his lyrics and verses to life with their enormous talent but the edifice is so manufactured with such understanding and innovation that it’s hard to imagine a more perfect marriage of words and talent.  Hands down the single best script written in 2019, and one that can be pondered and meditated as one of the finest this decade.

Superlatives are often used on performances to boast its creditability or just get a quote on a poster or commercial somewhere.  Flawless is a term that feels wholly unqualified to describe the grand, marvelous, glorious, and impeccably luminous work of treasure Jonathan Pryce.  A national treasure of the theatre, and just following a year that had many beating the drums for his work in “The Wife,” in which his co-star Glenn Close was nominated, it will be hard to find a more merited and justified human being this year that is worthy of the impending showering of honors that will be coming his way.  Pryce speaks four languages within the movie’s two-hour walls: English, Spanish, Italian, and Latin, all of which he doesn’t speak and learned in preparation for the role.

In an intimate luncheon in the Telluride mountains, Pryce, even at this moment, in which his work is being lauded, he’s still finding beats and items he could have done better or different.  One of which is a scene in which he puts his fingers on his face and does it, as he says, “like a British would do it and not an Argentinean.”  He’s always seeking the better version of his craft, unaware of how his gifts have decorated the walls of the artistic minds for decades.

Pryce wears Jorge upon his soul, with grace, but much like a jacket that belongs to you for years but just decided to put on.  His quiet silences are where he holds Jorge to the most natural and exquisite place. An actor can act with their body, put on makeup, and say the words in an accent or dialect and be applauded.  Pryce is so meticulous and extraordinary; his eyes are making their own interpretation of Jorge, with Pryce seemingly having a dialogue about how much of the tear should he release at this moment.

Anthony Hopkins, who has been nominated four times for an Academy Award, winning in 1991 his iconic turn as Hannibal Lecter in Jonathan Demme’s “The Silence of the Lambs,” puts forth his finest performance in nearly 30 years.  Effortless is a term that we can often use for actors when they portray a character, and it seems merely easy, with no real substance to that effort.  Hopkins carefully inserts grunts, groans, and mannerisms into a man with a deep-rooted responsibility to seemingly both good and evil within a two-thousand-year-old religion.  His charged-bursts of scene-chewing is equally sparred against Pryce’s soft, charismatic rebuttals.

Teamed up with cinematographer César Charlone once again, Meirelles’ narrative endeavor slices through like a documentary-like framework, brought to life with Fernando Stutz‘s crisp editing and Bryce Dessner‘s bombastic score.  The re-creation of the Sistine Chapel and other famously known sets are gorgeously assembled from the hands of production designer Mark Tildesley and set designer Livia Del Priore, two names that should be heavily considered for awards attention.

The Two Popes” sings and it is the most adoring song you will hear in 2019.  It’s challenging to sit for a film you dread and have it live up to that fear.  But when a film feels unknown, and completely floors you, it’s the most beautiful feeling.  “The Two Popes” could very well be the best film of the year, and if any film surpasses it, what a year for cinema it has been.

The Two Popes” is distributed by Netflix and opens in theaters on Nov. 27 in limited release before being offered on streaming on Dec. 20.