IMDB Synopsis: Behind Vatican walls, the conservative Pope Benedict and the liberal future Pope Francis must find common ground to forge a new path for the Catholic Church.
One need not be a follower of the Catholic faith to understand the power and importance of the Church for over a billion people. The Two Popes is set in an interesting time, as conservative Pope Benedict XVI (Anthony Hopkins as Joseph Ratzinger) battles with progressive Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce)—future Pope Francis—over not just the ideological future of the church, but its heart and soul. Director Fernando Meirelles (City of God) paints a vivid and intimate picture of politicking, an unlikely friendship, and the power of higher purpose. Shot in cinema verité, almost documentary-style, Meirelles successfully breathes life into what could have been a very boring concept.
The film efficiently sets up Bergoglio as a charismatic servant of God, concerned more with the plights of the masses and caring for the poor than the trappings of being a high ranking Catholic official. The Argentinian Cardinal lives simply: He eschews the official residence, he takes the bus, eats pizza, and loves football (San Lorenzo is his team). He sits in stark contrast to his boss Pope Benedict XVI, the german-born Joseph Ratzinger, a conservative ideologue embroiled in controversy. We find that Cardinal Bergoglio wants to retire and take on a simple parish to better serve his community, but must travel to Vatican City to have his resignation ratified by Benedict. But Pope Benedict has other plans for the Jesuit, simultaneously inviting Bergoglio to Italy.
The film is mostly set as a series of conversations between the two. From a heated exchange in the gardens of Gandolfo to an intimate night of discussion over a piano to serious conversations in the Sistine Chapel(!), the film absolutely delights. Wry, funny, sharp, witty, cutting, awkward, and insightful, the conversations—while mostly fictional—help inform the audience about the two, their bifurcated views on the Church, and ultimately how men of God choose to serve. The dialogue is interspersed with flashbacks to Bergoglio’s past—his path to the Church, ties to the Junta, and exile of sorts—that does drag the film’s energy down, but help paint a portrait of the man who would come to lead a billion souls.
Ultimately, the audience know where this goes (spoiler: Pope Francis is still the pontiff). But The Two Popes isn’t a retelling of Catholic history, it’s a peek into the minds of two important figures at a crossroads—for them and the Church. If anything, it paints with too broad a brush, that Pope Francis’ progressive views would be a tonic for the Church’s woes. But as a portrait of Cardinal Bergoglio, his life, his trials and tribulations, and his unlikely friendship with the Pope he criticized roundly, is wholly rapturous and engaging.
Highlights: The breezy camerawork and lively filmmaking animate what could have easily been droll exercise. The back and forth between Hopkins and Pryce are the highlight, which in effect, is the entire movie.
MVP: In what’s largely a two-hander, Jonathan Pryce as the humanistic and charismatic Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio shines brightest.
Should you watch it: Yes. You don’t need to be a Catholic or steeped in its history to enjoy this moving human drama. 8.5/10.
Director: Fernando Meirelles
Studio: Netflix // Original release date: November 27, 2019 (December 20 streaming on Netflix)