The Two Popes (2019)

This film is certainly enjoyable, entertaining, filled with two great actors doing great work together, filmed with a canny sense of kinetics that make its two hours fly by and never feel like a drudge (those kaleidoscopic news sequences, hyperfast editing of pens being used, shaky handheld, etc.). The lead actors get good lines like ‘Do not make a joke of everything I say. It is dishonest and cynical. Have enough respect to show me your real anger’, and ‘Confession cleans the sinners soul, it does not help the victim. sin is a wound, not a stain. It needs to be healed, to be treated. Forgiveness is not enough’. The film does weigh down on forgiveness being enough at the end, so to really come at the film for that is to come at Christianity itself. But that forgiveness is partially built on conflating things Pope John Paul II did with the actions of Pope Benedict XVI. The film is rife with inaccuracies, conflations, complete fictionalisations like that. The whole premise of the film is to realise conversations that never happened, between two (currently) living men. Is this really ethical? The film flat out fades out the dialogue during a discussion of sexual abuse among the priesthood. What is even the point of a half-measure like that, when it comes after that erroneous conflation of popes?

The film focuses far more on Francis; it’s more a Francis origin story than anything else. The modus operandi of the film seems to be ‘Francis is the good pope, Benedict was the bad pope (but not really a bad guy!), so isn’t the current state of things great?’. It’s not even the propaganda aspect of this that’s so awful, it’s also that the film robs itself of its most interesting scenes, by refusing to characterise Benedict much at all, so it becomes chiefly hagiographic of Francis. It’s not a film of ideas, it’s a film of personalities, and not real personalities either – imagined ones. It succeeds as an entertaining, well-acted, well-directed film, but the question is what was the actual purpose here. Because there are so many that come to mind, that the film really fails at.

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