When the beloved (by Catholics) Pope John Paul II passes away, the theatre of appointing a new Pope is activated. A room full of exclusively male cardinals are sequestered into the conclave as the ritualistic symbolism plays out.
The white/black smoke as votes are burned, newly appointed Pope appearing on the balcony bedecked in the papal slippers, red mozetta and pure white robes, high theatre cheered on by the faithful.
No spoilers the facts speak for themselves, JP II is replaced by Pope Benedict XVI – Ratzinger (Anthony Hopkins), a conservative, moderately unpopular choice in the eyes of the faithful, forever inextricably linked to a Nazi past.
At a time of crisis for the church, with child abuse, financial misconduct, female priest question and personal information leaks at the highest level, this choice confirms the belief the papacy has lost touch with their own flock at a grass roots level.
Meanwhile by Catholic standards, the moderate and reformist cardinal Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio / Pope Francis (Jonathan Pryce) has requested the Popes authority to resign, no longer believing the “product” he is selling.
However, Benedict has other plans which crystallize as the pair meet, they discuss at length their views on religion and faith. Two opposing views with much emphasis on the subtle difference between compromise or change.
The film is wordy and consists mainly of conversations between the pair, as this very odd couple find a way to bond, build bridges, albeit shaky in foundation. The intricate discussions on faith to non-believers is of no consequence, what matters is how the words are communicated, expressions and feelings. Hopkins and Pryce of course excel, with Pryce the notable stand out, acting at the highest level even when just listening.
Bergoglio harbours his own regrets from the military coup in Argentina and these are explored in flashbacks, impressively played by Juan Minujín.
The fictional, albeit based on fact story is directed by Fernando Meirelles, who manages to open out the screenplay sufficiently to betray any theatrical confinement. Bearing in mind no direct church assistance, the location work and use of a replica Sistine Chapel is impressive.
This is a slow but enjoyable film with two great character actors, sketching out two lives, filled with regrets, and guilt. Two men of advancing years seeking and providing redemption in equal measure. For those without faith there is still much to enjoy, although the ability for reflection and introspection surrounded by beautiful gardens and time is a luxury most can ill afford.
The elephant in the room remains, represented by the hypocrisy of the splendours and wealth on display, whilst many suffer under policies no longer relevant in the 21st century. Bergoglio is portrayed as a reformer, albeit a relative term compared to the out of touch, occasionally almost senile representation of Benedict/Ratzinger
Well worth a watch with two acting powerhouses playing off each other, with contemplative dialogue beautifully portrayed.
Ignoring the religious aspects, sit back and enjoy a rare film with no shoot outs or car chases, a welcome break.
(Showing exclusively on Netflix)