THE TWO POPES – Review by Diane Carson

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The Two Popes eavesdrops on Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Bergoglio,

At the heart of director Fernando Meirelles’ The Two Popes lies the debate between the better course forward for the Roman Catholic Church, in particular, and any esteemed alliance, in general. Which choice—tradition or reform—offers the best path: adhering to values affirmed over centuries or incorporating beliefs and principles that keep modern followers committed to the institution.

Set in this unprecedented time with two recognized Popes, the narrative presents an imagined, enthralling series of conversations between conservative Pope Benedict XVI and progressive Cardinal Bergoglio, destined to be Pope Francis, the first Jesuit to hold that esteemed office. This profound interaction between the previous Cardinal Ratzinger, of German heritage, and Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio occurs when Bergoglio comes to the Vatican to submit his resignation from the archdiocese of Buenos Aires. They meet several times, disagree, laugh, share meals, and explore critical issues, including brief mention of corruption and pedophilia problems. Church rituals for Papal election procedures add information and increase interest with behind-the-scenes interaction. Vivid costume colors offer visual stimulation, and seamless editing integrates past events critically important in Cardinal Bergoglio’s life.

Author of Darkest Hour, Anthony McCarten provides a remarkable, immensely pleasurable script that cares about language. Benedict and Francis deliberate compromise vs. change, regrets and forgiveness, acceptance of our own humanity and believing in the mercy that they preach. The performances by Anthony Hopkins as Benedict and Jonathan Pryce as Francis accentuate the depth of their concerns.

Technically, César Charlone’s cinematography clearly differentiates flashbacks to Bergoglio’s early, more troubled years from brightly lit exposures in Vatican gardens, interior rooms, and the Sistine Chapel. An exact replica of the Sistine was built, over ten weeks, on Rome’s Cinecitta sound stage, with exact copies of the frescoes.

Metaphors comment unobtrusively on a variety of current issues: building bridges not walls, income inequality, tyranny, modest vs. indulgent life styles. These important topics are punctuated with nice touches of humor and music. The Two Popes speaks to everyone who examines, as honestly as possible, the decisions of their lives, whether Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Catholic, Protestant, agnostic, atheist, or anything else. Streaming on Netflix beginning December 20.

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Diane Carson

Diane Carson, Ph.D., Professor Emerita, has reviewed films for over 25 years and has covered the Cannes, Telluride, Toronto, Palm Springs, and Sundance festivals. She writes for KDHX, 88.1 FM. St. Louis’ community radio. One of the founders of the St. Louis International Film Festival, she continues to serve on juries. A past president of the University Film and Video Association, she taught film studies and production at St. Louis Community College and at Webster University. Her new book, written with two colleagues, is “Appetites and Anxieties: Food, Film, and the Politics of Representation,” Wayne State U. Press, 2014.