Greetings again from the darkness. Abba versus Classical. Perhaps nothing more clearly separates the two men than their musical tastes. Of course, it’s their widely disparate views of society and the role of Catholicism that matter most. Expert filmmaker Fernando Meirelles (CITY OF GOD, 2002) and screenwriter Anthony McCarten (BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY, THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING) have crafted a beautiful telling of the story of how these two men crossed paths, and they selected two preeminent actors to play the two Eminences.
Jonathan Pryce plays Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, now known as Pope Francis, and Oscar winner Sir Anthony Hopkins plays Joseph Ratzinger, now known as Pope Benedict XVI. The story kicks off in 2005 with the announcement that Pope John Paul II has died. The proceedings for the election of the new pope provide us our first glimpse at the differences between ultra-conservative and traditional German Joseph Ratzinger and the progressive Jorge Bergoglio, so in touch with the people. It’s portrayed as a passive-aggressive rivalry, and an election between humility and ambition. Director Meirelles does a terrific job of establishing the pomp and tradition that goes with the election of a new pope … we see the quite amazing process in quick-cut form so that it doesn’t drag out.
There are flashbacks to Bergoglio’s early days in Buenos Aires, and Juan Minujin portrays him as a younger man making the all-important life decision. But of course the real fun here is the verbal sparring and intellectual chess match played out between the older men in 2012. Pope Benedict is dealing with church scandals involving financial fraud and sex-abuse cover-ups. He is, for lack of a better term, beaten down in his job. Bergoglio has requested permission to retire from his post, and he makes the trip to secure Benedict’s signature on the papers. Pope Benedict deftly avoids the papers and the topic as he engages Bergoglio in meaningful dialogue. Their conversation is at times combative, as their disparate philosophies become apparent. Bergoglio is a humble man of the people and understands the public perception of the Church. Benedict embraces the sanctity and power of his position and holds tightly to tradition.
As the two men philosophize on the Catholic religion and church, these two acting legends make every moment a pleasure to watch. Watching men of faith with differing ideals could have been either of two extremes: dry or over-the-top. Instead, we have meaningful dialogue on faith and the role of the church. Also, the set of the re-created Sistine Chapel is breathtaking and accurate. For those of us who have been inside the walls of the Chapel, we can’t help but recall the architectural and artistic details captured here. Cinematographer Cesar Charlone (Oscar nominated for CITY OF GOD) captures the beauty of the Chapel, as well as the immense size of Vatican City. As an added bonus, the aerial shots of Rome are not to be missed.
With more than one billion Catholics around the globe, it’s actually quite impressive that Pope Benedict was willing to step down and take the role of pope emeritus. For such a proud man to recognize that he was no longer the right man for the job is quite rare, but even more impressive is how he understood that his diametric opposite, Pope Francis, was the right man for the times. Fanta, futbol, Fitbit and Tango all surprisingly have their moments. The running gag with Fitbit provides levity when needed. The film might let Pope Benedict off a bit too easy as it showers Pope Francis with affection, but the real fun here is watching these two fine actors go at it.
watch the trailer: