The Two Popes (2019)

Behind the veil


It's hard not to feel like this film has an agenda. By the end of it, you are left with the distinct impression that the filmmakers are trying to convince the world that Catholicism isn't so bad and that the traditions of the Pope and the religion are still something to be valued and exalted. To be very blunt, that is irresponsible. Pope Benedict, played by Anthony Hopkins (more on his performance in a minute), says several times in the film that the Church is being 'attacked', that is it the 'victim' of hypocrisy. That angers me, even if that's what Benedict actually thinks. The Church is being attacked because it is the cause of a worldwide sexual abuse epidemic. And the only hypocrisy's are the ones coming from within its own walls. 

And that's where the filmmakers have their work cut out for them: showing a film like this to someone like me. I'm not a Catholic, or any other religion for that matter, so I don't find anything awe inspiring about the office of the Pope or the traditions of the Church.

But it is very apparent that director Fernando Meirelles does. The painstaking recreations of iconic Vatican locations and the minute attention to detail throughout the film is amazing. You can tell that this film was a labour of love and that many Vatican experts had a hand in building these sets and ensuring the copies were as authentic as possible to the the originals. 
The film is meant to feel like a documentary, and it does. The framing, the aesthetic, the quality of the image and the fly on the wall feel, all work together to create a very intimate setting that allows the viewer to feel like they are in the rooms where many of these conversations take place. 
The other, perhaps most impressive aspect of this film is the acting. Hopkins as Benedict and Jonathan Pryce as Pope Francis (who also happens to look nearly identical to the sitting Pope) are revelatory as the two religious icons. Hopkins, who is 81, plays the 86 (at the time the movie takes place) year old Benedict with such seemingly effortless authenticity, it's very possible this could be his greatest performance. Pryce, as the 'rabble rousing' new Pope meant to save Catholicism from itself and push it in a more progressive direction, is nearly as good as Hopkins. To watch these two professional craftsmen spend the entire movie embodying these very famous and complicated men is a joy and a wonder. 

But the actual making of the film and the level of craftsmanship is all the praise I can give The Two Popes. Because at the end of the day, this movie lets these Popes completely off the hook by at best skirting the issue of the sex abuse epidemic, and at worst acting as hagiography for Francis. Let's not forget that while Francis is perhaps the least stuffy and most progressive Pope (in some ways) in recent memory, he is still plagued by controversy for protecting or turning a blind eye to the accusations of sexual misconduct by religious leaders at every level in the Catholic Church. 
The film mentions the sex scandals exactly twice and the second time, the audio purposely drops out when Benedict is confessing that he knew of sexual abuse being done and did nothing about it. Why is Meirelles letting this guy off the hook? He presents Francis in this film as someone who is a man of the people and a servant of such authentic humility that he won't even live in the palaces of the Cardinal and Pope. Why then has such a man of the people not gone out of his way to imprison all of the people in his religion who have been found guilty of sexual abuse against minors? Why has he not renounced the Church's stance against homosexuality and same sex marriage?
There is a great hypocrisy that Meirelles is asking us to participate in when he presents a portrait of these two men as something to find amusement in, or to admire, when it seems to me that they aren't even attempting to properly see to the epidemic of worldwide abuse their church has been and still is responsible for.

So the moral of this story seems to be: yes, the Catholic Church is in a time of crisis and it needs to be saved from itself. Yes, it is the cause of worldwide sexual abuse and yes, Pope Francis still officially only recognizes a marriage as a union between a man and a women...but look how cute these two Popes are together! Watching soccer and drinking beer. Playing piano and talking about ABBA and the Beatles. 
What a crock. 

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