Films about popes have already been interesting, regardless if one is Roman Catholic or not. The Roam Catholic institution has survived ages. News and headlines about priest abuse and the selection process of a new pope have always fascinated the world. In THE TWO POPES, director Fernando Meirelles’s (the director of the Academy Award Nominee for Best Foreign Language film, CITY OF GOD), THE TWO POPES tells the stories of not one but two popes as they interact with each other, both with different ideals for the church and basically two highly different people. Yet, they are good people, as they should be, with great ambitions for the Catholic Church. They are played by two of filmdom’s finest actors, Sir Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce, both now old enough to play the two pontiffs.
The film opens with Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Pryce) preaching in the streets in Argentina while also cheering his favourite soccer team. The film quickly established Cardinal Jorge as a decent man with ordinary pleasures like the love for soccer. The film effectively closes with both popes watching the World cup final each cheering for their home teams, while making ‘human’ jokes while getting extremely excited.
Of the two popes, Bergoglio is the more interesting, only because director Meirelles devotes more time in him. Bergoglio prefers walking or biking to limousines. He likes to tango and watch soccer with ordinary people. In an amusing early scene, we hear him whistling “Dancing Queen” in the Vatican men’s room. He is clearly shown to be against sexual abuse, believing that offenders should be defrocked. He is also against homosexuality, which clearly will anger the majority of people, but that is his belief. No reasons are given for this belief.
Director Meirelles spends time on the process of selecting Bergoglio that went behind closed doors in the Vatican when white smoke from the chimney would indicate the decision that a new pope has been selected.
In contrast is the opposite nature of Pope Benedict (Hopkins), who regards any change as a perilous compromise to the Church’s integrity. Nevertheless, Benedict realizes that momentum is building for Bergoglio to succeed him, so the two men meet, break bread, and engage in a debate that reveals much about their respective pasts and divergent visions for the future. This is perhaps the most interesting part of the film, analogous to climatic confrontation in a film drama. The only difference here is that there is no right or wrong but differences in opinion and beliefs. Except for the fact that homosexuality should not be condemned in the Catholic Church, an issue neglected in the film.
THE TWO POPES should be seen primarily for the performances of its two leads, Hopkins and Pryce. Director Meirelles has also achieved the formidable task of making a film on the Catholic Church more interesting that it should be.
THE TWO POPES premiered this year at the Toronto International Film Festival. It has a limited screening engagement at the Bell Lightbox before being streamed on Netflix.