Movie review: Francisco - The Man Behind the Pope

By Peter Calder

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Pope Francis (AP).
Pope Francis (AP).

Released under a bewildering array of titles in different territories (Francis: Pray for Me, Papa Francisco: The Pope Francis Story and Francisco: Father Jorge) this reverential biography of the first Pope from the Southern Hemisphere is not to be confused with a Call Me Francis: The People's Pope, which seems to have screened only at the Vatican and is due for television broadcast in Latin America.

Its plain intention is to create an object of veneration and though that may explain its uncritical, even reverential tone, it cannot excuse its infuriatingly clumsy structure.

The film is based based on the bestselling book Francisco: Life and Revolution, by Elisabetta Pique, the Vatican correspondent for the conservative Buenos Aires newspaper La Nacion (interestingly, a book by her predecessor in that role is the basis of Call me Francis).

Director Docampo Feijoo chooses to reflect that provenance by creating an agnostic journalist character, Ana (Abascal) who takes an interest in the archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio long before his name begins being uttered in Vatican conclaves (he was a contender in the election that installed Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI).

This narrative frame was never going to work, not least because the film has to step outside it to get at parts of Father Jorge's life no journalist witnessed (his childhood; his confessions; his election) but making matters worse is that the story jumps around the decades, and fades to black without warning after dialogues that look suspiciously like dramatised homilies.

What we end up with is more catechism than biography or drama. The film skates smoothly over the allegations that he may have winked at some of the junta's excesses in the Dirty War (short answer: nothing in it) and leaves us with a priest who seems to extol the nobility of poverty.

At the very least, that does a disservice to the courageously provocative man the Bishop of Rome is turning out to be.

Verdict: More reverential than interesting

Cast: Dario Grandinetti, Silvia Abascal

Director: Beda Docampo Feijoo

Running time: 105 mins

Rating: PG (adult themes)

In Spanish and Italian

- NZ Herald

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