Review: “Pope Francis: A Man Of His Word”

“Pope Francis: A Man Of His Word” (2018) is a documentary about Pope Francis which covers the beginning years of his papacy. It is directed by Wim Wenders and is a collaboration between ‘Focus Features’ and the ‘Vatican Television Centre’.  

The documentary opens on the town of Assisi in Italy where we are introduced to St Francis of Assisi (1181-1226). He lived a radical way of life, focusing on listening to God, people and the land. The narrator asks: “What will it take to blow the St Francis breeze into the world again?”

We then meet Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Argentina in 1999, 14 years before he becomes Pope and takes on the name (and mission) of Francis. The documentary builds on a parallel between Pope Francis and St Francis, jumping between two time periods to show the similarities in their mission.

It is an unusual documentary, as the narrative is minimal, and mostly allows Pope Francis to speak to the audience in his own words. It provides a unique view of what it is to be Pope. It also allows the viewers to see first hand the humble, caring, personable man who is Pope Francis. I recommend this documentary highly. As a Catholic, it gave me hope for the future of the Catholic Church.  

This documentary is not just for Catholics. This is because it addresses issues facing each and every one of us in the world today.

One of these issues is the treatment of our environment.  One disheartening scene shows people sifting through a mountain of rubbish. As the camera pans out, it seems as if the rubbish mountain never ends. The scene grows larger, and houses are seen in the middle of this massive garbage dump. It demonstrates perfectly Pope Francis’s claim that the world has taken on a ‘culture of waste’.

The cinematography is quite simple but powerful. Scenes about St Francis of Assisi are filmed on a hand-cranked camera in sepia. This gives a completely different look and feel between the worlds that the two men are in - yet, effectively, it also shows the parallels.

Pope Francis is often shown sitting on a chair speaking directly to the camera. This is interspersed by footage of his travels around the world.

The questions asked are answered by Pope Francis - by reporters on planes in mid-air press conferences or by footage from papal audiences.  These topics are continued by the Pope’s responses direct to camera.

Producer Alessandro Lo Monaco says of the film to IMBd: “I consider this a film with Pope Francis because when you watch it, you feel as if you are sitting in front of the Pope. You sit in front of him and he talks to you. It’s a very personal experience.”

Many times through the documentary I felt that the Pope was speaking to me - and I found myself thinking about how I could make a difference regarding the issue he was speaking about.

Pope Francis shared the two things that make a difference to anyone no matter what they are going through - a smile, and a sense of humour.

Pope Francis begins his day by praying St Thomas More’s Prayer for a Sense of Humour, which ends with the words: ‘Allow me the grace to be able to take a joke to discover in life a bit of joy, and to be able to share it with others.’

That daily prayer of Pope Francis is clearly working. In an interview for IMBd, producer Alessandro Lo Monaco said of the final day of filming: ‘Pope Francis told us his answers were like seeds he wanted us to spread all over the world - and said if we did a good job, those seeds would become beautiful flowers. “Otherwise, may your cameras break down,” he added.’

The audience members at the Sydney Film Festival, gasped, laughed, cried and applauded as they watched the documentary.

After overhearing conversations as I left the venue, I was convinced that the producer’s cameras won’t break down anytime soon.



View the trailer

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Brooke Robinson Image
Brooke Robinson

Brooke is Content Officer for the Communications Team in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle