New Francis documentary is ‘thought-provoking’ with ‘unprecedented access to the pope’

A man in a detention center meets Pope Francis in "Pope Francis — A Man of His Word." Photo: © 2018 CTV, Célestes, Solares, Neue Road Movies, Decia, PTS ART’s Factory

Pope Francis: A Man of His Word is a documentary film by Wim Wenders, a celebrated German filmmaker, whose career filmography is vast and eclectic. This particular movie certainly is of interest to Catholics but I think it is a film that all people with an open mind will find fascinating. I know I did.

Director Wim Wenders (left) and Pope Francis (right) during the filming of “Pope Francis — A Man of His Word,” a Focus Features release.
Photo: © 2018 CTV, Célestes, Solares, Neue Road Movies, Decia, PTS ART’s Factory/photograph by Francesco Sforza

The style of the filmmaking is what draws you in; the pope is so up close in the screen (because of a special camera rig called the Interrotron) the effect is to make it seem he is talking to you directly. I had never seen another documentary before that was this intimate.

If you’re looking for a film about Pope Francis, his early life, and his life in the Church, this is not that film. This film is a dialogue between the leader of the world’s one billion Catholics and the viewer. It is a personal film; one that I, as a viewer believe will have meaning for each individual person who sees it.

The director, Wenders, had unprecedented access to the pope, the Vatican, and the Vatican Archives. In addition to that access, filmmakers also were able to travel with the pontiff on some of his state visits which provides a unique feel to this film.

We see the pope speaking to unique groups of people, whether it is a throng of youths or the Joint Session of the U.S. Congress. He is the same man to whomever he speaks; the honesty and conviction are palpable.

Another interesting aspect for the film is the “movie within the movie.” Wenders is fascinated by St. Francis of Assisi and the connection he has with Pope Francis. Wenders shot a movie that looks like “found footage” of scenes from St. Francis’ life, weaving them in throughout the film.

The “movie within the movie” serves to highlight the radical Christianity of St. Francis, how he was a reformer, and tried to live the Gospel truly and faithfully. Pope Francis is seen as a reformer and somewhat radical as well, and so the link is far more than just a name, it’s the philosophy of faith as well. They share a common vision of the Gospel message and how it’s supposed to change us and the world we live in.

The world we live in is a highlight of this film, as well. There is a strong environmental message to this movie. It’s not a radical vision, but it is a simple understanding of how we need to care for our planet. Both the pope and the saint want us to be aware of how each individual affects the common good.

The common good is not just the environment, however. It is how we treat each other, and it really is how we love each other. The love that Jesus taught is radical, even today! We need to find ways to respect the human person and to see in our less fortunate brothers and sisters the face of Jesus and treat them accordingly. This to me is one of the core messages of the movie.

I recommend this movie for adults and older teenagers. It is a movie that provokes thought and the more mature mind can process the film better.

Younger folks won’t be scandalized or scared, but parents should be warned, it will bring up questions that beg answers and so the adults need to ask themselves if they are prepared to have those conversations.

This is a thought-provoking bit of filmmaking and I hope that Catholics will give it a serious viewing. Understanding the pope through his own words will be better than trying to get the truth through the news media or other intermediaries.

When you watch this movie ask yourself this question: Am I living out a radical faith in Jesus? How you answer this question will probably depend on a lot of things. How you view the pope now may be one of those things. Watch with an open heart and mind, and you’ll be surprised where this documentary takes you.

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