26 January 2020 | bob-the-movie-man
Fantastic performances from two old acting pros.
Being inaugurated as a new pope in the last century must have been a source of enormous pride. But there must also have been a nagging thought... at some point you are going to be paraded, stiff as a board, around your work courtyard before being taken back inside to your place of work and buried there!
All that changed in 2013 when Pope Benedict XVI resigned, the first pope to voluntarily do so since Pope Celestine V in 1294. (Pope Gregory XII also resigned in 1415, but he was effectively forced to).
This movie tells the story of that curious situation, when Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (played by Jonathan Pryce) ended up as Pope Francis while Benedict (Anthony Hopkins) was still alive. The official reason for the pope's resignation appears to have been his advanced age. But the film paints a rather different picture.
The movie starts back in 2005 as we enter the papal conclave. Benedict (Cardinal Ratzinger, as was) is the highly-political German cardinal who desperately wants the papacy; Bergoglio is the highly respected Argentinian cardinal who doesn't seek the office but might have it thrust upon him. (Clearly, when the white smoke clears, history has dictated the outcome).
But flash forward to 2013 and Bergoglio will get another bite of the cherry. Is he worthy of the role? Through flashbacks we return to Perón's unsettling rule over Argentina and the events that made the man.
The two stars are simply outstanding together, and it's no surprise at all that both have been nominated in the Oscar acting categories. They are almost joint leads. But - perhaps to give the film its best awards-season shot - Pryce is down for Best Actor and Hopkins is down for Best Supporting Actor.
Anthony Hopkins in particular for me shone with the brilliant quietness and subtle facial movements that are the mark of a truly confident actor. Less is more.
I was enjoying this movie enormously up until we flashed back to the Argentinian sub-plot. Set in the time of Perón's "Dirty War" when a huge number of people - estimates range from 9,000 to 30,000 - simply went "missing". There's nothing wrong with this sequence of the film. For example, a reunion of Bergoglio with a persecuted priest, Father Jalics (Lisandro Fiks) - is brilliantly and movingly done. It's just that for me it seemed so disjointed. It was jarring to switch from this Evita-era drama to the gentle drama of the papal plot.
If the movie had been 30 minutes shorter and focused on the mental struggles of Benedict I would have preferred it. Curiously - we don't really get to fully understand his divergence from the faith. Bergoglio gets no end of back-story. But Ratzinger's is probably just as interesting, but not explored.
This is still a really fine movie and will appeal to older folks who like a story rich with character acting and not heavy on the action or special effects. The director is Fernando Meirelles (who interestingly directed the Rio Olympics opening ceremony!) and it's written by Anthony McCarten, the man behind the screenplays for "The Theory of Everything", "Darkest Hour" and "Bohemian Rhapsody".
You may still be able to find this in selected cinemas (e.g. Curzon) but it is also streaming on Netflix, which is where I had to watch it.
(For the full graphical review, please check out One Mann's Movies on the web or Facebook. Thanks).