Film Review: POPE FRANCIS: A MAN OF HIS WORD (Germany and other Countries 2018) ***

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Pope Francis: A Man of His Word Poster


Wim Wenders


Wim Wenders (screenplay), David Rosier


Right hot from the Cannes 2018 premiere, Wim Wenders’ POPE FRANCIS: A MAN OF HIS WORD arrives in Toronto.  Watching the film in the comfort of Toronto without the hassle of going to a too-busy film festival at Cannes is my personal preference.

German director of fictional films and documentaries, Wenders  has made docs like THE BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB, PINA and SALT OF THE EARTH that are most remembered.  As in all his films, Wenders films are beautifully shot.  

It should be noted that POPE FRANCIS: A MAN OF HIS WORD is not a biography of Pope Francis.  Nothing is mentioned of his background (except that he came from South America), his education, learning, childhood or family.  Instead, as Wenders must have been given Carte Blanche access to the pontiff’s interviews and journeys, the audience is given the freedom and opportunity to make up their minds for themselves with regards to his aspirations from the footage seen on screen.  At times, Wenders allows Pope Francis to deliver almost an entire sermon on film, thus forcing the audience to feel exactly how his Catholic congregation would have felt in a church. The camera also lingers on the congregation from the little poor people to the congressmen – and how they are mightily moved by his sincere words.  The Pope is shown not to be a great orator, but one who carefully chooses his words.  His sincerity and speech content make the difference.

Unlike other Popes in the past who are almost too frail to make an appearance or travel around the world to inspire, Pope Francis is clearly aware of the current world affairs.  His commitment to saving the Planet Earth is observed in many instances.  He travels to the Earth Conferences around the world and speaks some powerful words.  “The poorest of the poorest is Mother Earth,” he preaches in one of the film’s most moving segments.  “She has been plundered.  She has been abused.”  On other matters such as homosexuality, he is unfortunately, less firm.  He gives an ambiguous reply saying that: “if a gay man does no wrong, who is he to judge?”

Among the Pope’s trips, the audience gets to see a Pope’s eye view of a Brazilian street mass, a Central African Republic children’s hospital, a Philadelphia prison, a Greek migrant camp, the UN, a joint session of Congress and a Jerusalem Holocaust remembrance ceremony.  The most moving of these is the segment of the Greek migrant camp, whee he goes about kissing individuals as they reach out to touch him in response. 

Wenders’ doc POPE FRANCIS proves that more can be learnt about the Pope by following the person during his meetings, speeches and journeys than from his background or interviews of his friends and family.  In this doc, one cannot help but admire Pope Francis not only as a Pope who has inspirational ideas but one that is intent to make a difference in the world from his holy position.




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Film Review: THE FINAL YEAR (USA 2017) ***

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The Final Year Poster

THE FINAL YEAR is a unique insiders’ account of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy team during their last year in office. Featuring unprecedented access inside the White House and …See full summary »


Greg Barker


As the film title implies, Greg Barker’s documentary is an eye-opening unprecedented look during the final year (actually 30 days of the final year) of US foreign policy by following key members of outgoing US President Barack Obama’s administration.

If all this sounds too political, the film is.  The question then is whether it is necessary to watch a film on American policy.  American policy as a stand-alone entity might not have any interest to non-Americans or even Americans.  But the U.S. being the most influential country in the world therefore would have a policy that would have ramifications all over the world.  So, unless one wants to live like a man in a cave and not wish to know what is going outside, this film will not affect you.  It is also good to see the real goings-on in the Obama Administration besides just hearing the points of view of the news.

It is one year before Trump came into the U.S. Presidency.  During 2016, filmmaker Greg Barker (SERGIO, MANHUNT: THE STORY OF THE HUNT FOR BIN LADEN) gained access to key members of outgoing US President Barack Obama’s administration — Secretary of State John Kerry, Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, confidant and speech writer Ben Rhodes, and others — for an unprecedented look at the shaping of US foreign policy.  While TV shows from The West Wing to Madam Secretary have invented dramas from this milieu, this documentary captures the real players so much in the moment.

The film begins inside the home of Power.  The audience sees that these high profile state politicians are also ordinary people with kids and a family life.

The globe-spanning journey involves stops on multiple continents.  Rhodes, who is described as sharing a “mind meld” with Obama, joins the President on historic visits to Ho Chi Minh City, Hiroshima, and Havana.  Power seeks to put ordinary people at the heart of foreign policy in Nigeria and Cameroon.  Kerry negotiates at the UN for a Syrian ceasefire and bears witness to global warming in Greenland.  Every move they make stirs reactions from media, Congress, and the public.

Inevitable comparisons will made with the current Trump Administration.  (The film ends with the unexpected Trump win as the new U.S. President.) Clearly, there are noticeable differences.  One can likely see that there is more planning and cooperation with Obama.  Also Obama is one to give good speeches.  One in the film where he speaks to foreign young audience, Obama talks of stories that need be told and in this case, for America the importance of the Declaration of Independence in which all peoples are treated equal.  This is to contrast to President Trump, who never gives a proper speech and talks in short phrases like: “No!”; “Wrong!” etc.

There are many best segments captured live on camera like President Obama’s Hiroshima and Power’s immigration speeches.  But most important of all, the film reveals the true nature of the Presidential Aides, many of whom are inspirational in their duties.

I would like to see the equivalent of this film with the Trump Administration.  That would be an eye-opener.  But it would be highly unlikely seeing already that Trump already dislikes the media.  Trump has already opted out of the climate change accord and the Iran Treaty, two policies Obama and his Administration have worked so hard to achieve.



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AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL TRUTH TO POWER.jpgA decade after An Inconvenient Truth (2006) brought climate change into the heart of popular culture comes the follow-up that shows just how close we are to a real energy revolution.

Directors: Bonni Cohen, Jon Shenk
Stars: Al Gore, George W. Bush, John Kerry

Review by Gilbert Seah

AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL: TRUTH TO POWER is the sequel to the 2006 Academy Award Winner for Best Documentary AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH starring Al Gore where the former Vice-President of the United States championed the fight on global warming. In that film, the effects of global warming were convincingly portrayed on screen, rallying uncountable numbers of followers to fight against global warming. After more than 10 years, many of that film’s predictions (the best example used being the flooding of the World Trade Centre grounds), laughed upon by skeptics have come to pass. This sequel is timely and premiered at Sundance early this year.

The film follows the efforts made to tackle climate change and Al Gore’s attempts to persuade governmental leaders to invest in renewable energy, culminating in the signing of the Paris Climate Agreement in 2016.

The film begins lightly with references to the 2006 film and with Al Gore in lighter mode shown joking and laughing. His joke about a lady (not recognizing him) telling him that if dyed his hair black, he would look like Al Gore is funny enough, enabling the film to transition slowly to a more serious nature. Gore is also shown, in the film’s best moments giving his climate speeches, while getting fully worked up in the process.

Gore is undoubtedly presented in the film as the conquering hero, besides a champion for the climate change movement. Well, better a hero for a crucial course that no hero at all.

While the film traces Gore’s attendance at the Paris talks in 2016, it narrows the events to his victory at convincing India to cooperate. At the same time, the film shows how each country contributes to the reduction of global warming and where the problems lie. The film’s high is the revelation of how much Chile has done in the construction of solar powered plants. Another high is how Geogetown, Texas through its comical mayor has also championed itself towards 100% renewal energy. He emphasizes the saying that we should leave the world a better place in terms of renewal energy.

The ultimate question asked is whether AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL is better than the original INCONVENIENT TRUTH. The truth is that it is difficult for anyone who has seen the 2006 film to remember, especially after 11 years have passed. A fellow critic colleague mentioned that SEQUEL is the better film, being more focused, also claiming that he has just re-watched the original for comparison. For myself, I remember being more moved by the first film, and understandably so, for the more disturbing images of the effects of global warming shown. In SEQUEL, though many images are still shown, most of these are the catastrophes like the flooding and drought scenes, but the melting ice and the depletion of ice created the greater impact.

Still in SEQUEL, directors Cohen and Shenk have re-edited the film following President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, to expand Trump’s role as antagonist before the film hits theatres. All the better to incite the workers for climate change to have a common enemy, and an easy target at that.
The film ends, predictably though necessarily, with how everyone can contribute to the cause, with the website they can log on to.


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