PLOT A documentary on the radical new pope, from German director Wim Wenders.
RATED PG (grim images of disaster and poverty)
PLAYING AT Cinema Arts Centre, Huntington; Malverne Cinema 4, Manhasset Cinemas
BOTTOM LINE Reverent to the point of promotional, but often inspiring as well.
Director Wim Wenders seems utterly spellbound by his subject in his new documentary, “Pope Francis: A Man of His Word.” You can’t blame him. Soon after Francis ascended to the papacy in March 2013, he began voicing modern-day beliefs that seemed at odds with the hidebound Vatican: respect for gay rights, tolerance of other faiths, qualms about capitalism and, most of all, deep concerns over global warming. Francis isn’t just the first pope to come from outside patriarchal Europe, and the first pope to come from Latin America. He’s also the first pope you could call, without irony, “cool.”
How and why did the conservative Catholic Church suddenly choose this radical pope? This movie doesn’t attempt to answer the question. That would require a deep dive into the sex-abuse scandal that rocked the Church over the past 15 years, and neither Wenders nor, surely, his subject want to spend much time on that. “Pope Francis” is all about renewal of faith and hope for the future.
Reverently narrated by Wenders in his soft German accent, “Pope Francis” is built around four one-on-one interviews with the man himself. (All are filmed at the Vatican, some indoors, some in a garden whose combination of blue sky and green treetops strike a perfect balance of the heavenly and the earthly.) In his native Argentine Spanish, Francis holds forth on general subjects — the value of work, making peace with death, the importance of tolerance — with a down-to-earth simplicity that can be disarmingly profound. To cite just one nicely put example: “Differences scare us,” he says, “because they make us grow.”
Wenders includes only one outside perspective, from a nun who has known Francis for nearly 50 years, and no critical voices. (Surely someone in the current political climate must object to Francis' pro-gay, anti-consumerist, pro-environment tenets.) “Pope Francis” might have felt a little richer if it had broadened its horizons. Still, it's the closest most of us will ever come to an audience with this remarkable figure.