Friday, December 13, 2019

The Two Popes

Kaksi paavia / The Two Popes [the title in Sweden].
    GB/US/IT/AR © 2019 Netflix. P: Dan Lin, Jonathan Eirich, Tracey Seaward.
    D: Fernando Meirelles. SC: Anthony McCarten – based on The Pope: Francis, Benedict, and the Decision That Shook the World (2019) by Anthony McCarten. DP: César Charlone – digital RED Weapon 8K S35. PD: Mark Tildesley. Cost: Luca Canfora. Make-up and hair: Marese Langan. M: Bryce Dessner. ED: Fernando Stutz.
    C: Anthony Hopkins (Pope Benedict XVI), Jonathan Pryce (Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio / Pope Francis), Juan Minujín (Young Jorge Mario Bergoglio), Sidney Cole (Cardinal Peter Turkson), Lisandro Fiks (Father Franz Jalics), Thomas D. Williams (The American Journalist), Maria Ucedo (Esther Ballestrine), Emma Bonino (Herself).
– Argentine: Vieja 21 of Buenos Aires; the desert on the outskirts of the city of Córdoba
– Uruguay
– Italy: the Royal Palace of Caserta, the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, the former papal retreat Villa Mondragone, Villa Farnese
    Studio: Cinecittà : a life-size replica of the Sistine Chapel.
    In English with passages in Spanish, Italian, German and Latin.
    125 min
    Festival premiere: 31 Aug 2019 Telluride.
    US premiere: 27 Nov 2019 (limited).
    Netflix streaming launchdate: 20 Dec 2019.
    Finnish premiere: 13 Dec 2019 (limited) – distributed by Scanbox – with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Suvi Niemelä / Bengt-Ove Andersson.
    DCP viewed at Kino Engel 2, 13 Dec 2019.

The Two Popes: Production Notes: Official synopsis: "From Fernando Meirelles, the Academy Award®-nominated director of City of God, and three-time Academy Award-nominated screenwriter Anthony McCarten, comes an intimate story of one of the most dramatic transitions of power in the last 2,000 years. Frustrated with the direction of the church, Cardinal Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce) requests permission to retire in 2012 from Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins). Instead, facing scandal and self-doubt, the introspective Pope Benedict summons his harshest critic and future successor to Rome to reveal a secret that would shake the foundations of the Catholic Church. Behind Vatican walls, a struggle commences between both tradition and progress, guilt and forgiveness, as these two very different men confront elements from their pasts in order to find common ground and forge a future for a billion followers around the world."

Fernando Meirelles:  “What made me decide to do this film was Pope Francis,” he says. “The world at the moment is a very odd place: we’re destroying the planet and many countries are trying to build walls. As most people would accept, our future is in danger. Who else sees the planet as a united whole, not as separate nationalities? Pope Francis is trying to unite all countries, all continents, all religions, all races. He is one of the very few who’s really thinking globally in the right way — trying to include everybody, trying to build bridges." (The Two Popes: Production Notes)

AA: The Two Popes is the perfect Christmas movie this year. "Upon this rock I will build my church" said Jesus as he selected Peter to lead the Apostles, and from him the Catholic Church starts the succession of Popes. The term "the Saviour" has never been been more literally relevant than in our times.

At the morning discussion of the Midnight Sun Film Festival last summer the director Fernando Meirelles gave the most remarkable statement I have heard this year. It was the first time I have heard anybody give such a statement. Towards the conclusion of the morning discussion, Mika Kaurismäki asked Meirelles about his future plans.

There is no future, Meirelles answered.

We are destroying our environment, and we may have reached the point of no return. Meirelles stated that we all know what is going on, and we have known it for a long time. Meirelles, a proud father and grandfather, said that he now considers the environment awareness his mission as a film-maker. It is difficult, because nobody wants to listen. We have to make films that tell the truth and that people want to see. (My resume based on memory. On record Meirelles has stated the same thing in published interviews).

The Two Popes is a drama about the existential crisis of the Catholic Church. Corruption, rampant pedophilia, Vatileaks, epic fraud at the Vatican Bank, secularization and a loss of membership are shaking it to the core. The leaders fear that these events may damage the church forever.

Pope Benedict XVI resigns. Cardinal Bergoglio is elected and as Pope Francis starts in his office in 2013, the first Pope outside Europe since the 8th century. The new Pope knows the poverty of the Southern hemisphere first hand. He has also a sense of urgency in environmental issues, prominently in his first independently written encyclical, Laudato si', whose title refers to the "Canticle of the Sun" of Francis of Assisi.

Written by Anthony McCarten, the epic themes have been crystallized into brilliant debates between Benedict XVI and Francis. They have irreconcilable differences. Benedict XVI resigns because he cannot go on. He is no longer hearing the voice of God. But he starts to hear it again – in the words of Francis. For Francis, change is a keyword. Nothing is static. God changes.

The themes of the film could not have more gravity, but Fernando Meirelles has made a popular film attractive for the general audience. Powerfully interpreted by Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce, the film reveals the human side of the men of God. The two popes share a pizza, watch football and Kommissar Rex on tv and tell jokes*. I notice a major newspaper reviewer calling this a feelgood film, which is probably a positive sign. I don't think that this aspect trivializes issues, on the contrary. The dimension is similar in The Unknown Soldier, Finland's most popular story (as a novel, play and three film adaptations): the men are joking all the time – to keep their mental balance in the frontline.

(* Benedict XVI / Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger notes, however, that "a German joke does not have to be funny").

Silencium incarnatum. The popes confess their darkest secrets. During the Dirty War of the Argentinian military junta Bergoglio was made complicit in oppression. His agonizing dilemma at the time: "If I open my mouth I cannot help". Benedict's big secret is that he knew about the pedophilia scandals and failed to act. In this moment the soundtrack turns silent, and we fail to hear everything Benedict has to say. Francis's approach to confession is: "Sin is a wound, not a stain. It needs to heal".

As an account of the Holy See, The Two Popes feels authentic in detail. Besides attention to physical accuracy we learn much about the procedures of the Church, also seldom mentioned aspects of history such as that celibacy was introduced in the 12th century, and angels were only recognized in the 5th century.

From dialogues between two men The Two Popes opens into a vision of two worlds: the affluent Vatican and the slums of Argentine. A central subtext is the Temptation of Christ in the desert, especially the final temptation on the mountain. "All these things I will give you if you fall down and do an act of worship to me", promises Satan. The Two Popes is both a chamber piece and an epic movie about the biggest issues on the globe.

Shot by César Charlone on 8K digital the cinematography is stunning, dramatizing visually the contrast between the two worlds. The presence of the Sistine Chapel** introduces Michelangelo's Renaissance ambience to the drama.

(**  On display is a replica, naturally of the 1984 restoration of the Sistine Chapel, controversial in the same way as "gilded lily" restorations of classic movies because they are so different from the originals. A double-billing suggestion might be The Agony and the Ecstasy where replicas of pre-restoration Sistine Chapel frescoes are displayed).

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