The Compellingly Divine

A seemingly straightforward two-hour documentary of Pope Francis, Francesco otherwise manages to compel. Directed by Evgeny Afineevsky, the film is noteworthy for mostly competent direction and production values.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1936. He is the first Pope to be born outside Europe since Gregory III (731–741). As the new Pope he took the name of Francis. His untimely succession to Pope Benedict XVI was the result of the former’s ill health. Francis was also following a conservative Pope with outspoken and often controversial values.

A Pope Who Questions the Institutional Status Quo

Francesco follows Fernando Meirelles’s dramatization The Two Popes (2019). Jonathan Pryce played Pope Francis, and Anthony Hopkins was Pope Benedict XVI. The Two Popes imagined a bromance of sorts between the outgoing conservative and incoming liberal. There was also Wim Wenders’ documentary Pope Francis: A Man of His Word (2018). This film lauded Francis’ concerns with issues such as the climate crisis, refugees and inequality. Likewise, Francesco shows he is an outspoken critic of unbridled capitalism and free market economics, consumerism, and over development. Since 2018, he has also been an opponent of populism. At the same time, he has welcomed tolerance for the LGBT community in the Church.

On the global stage, Pope Francis has helped to restore full diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba. He also supported the cause of refugees during the European and Central American migrant crises. Furthermore, he has tackled child abuse, particularly a case in Santiago, Chile. Juan Carlos Cruz wrote to the Pope detailing his abuse from Father Fernando Karadima. After initially dismissing this claim, Francis eventually defrocked Karadima and apologized to Cruz.

Francesco also remains respectably (or, perhaps, forcibly) distanced. At times it raises the question of how much the director had direct access to his subject. For example, included is some footage of Francis talking to someone off-camera. There are also excessive drone shots, and Francis only seemingly gives interviews to friends and colleagues.

On the whole, Francesco is a worthwhile and at times enigmatic portrait of Pope Francis. Despite occasional editing flaws and questionable one-sidedness, it opens a window on the head of the Catholic Church.

By Steve Yates