A Pope and a Jesuit cardinal walk into a chapel. They order Fanta and pizza and talk about ABBA. They wear Fitbits and joke about the Beatles. Their humanity is the sole focus of their conversations. This is the focus of “The Two Popes,” a delightfully amusing drama featuring two acting powerhouses and a sharply written script. It also features the best production design and art direction of the year. When I watched “The Two Popes,” I believed that I was looking at shots of the Vatican. A full-size reproduction of the Sistine Chapel is particularly breathtaking.
“The Two Popes” explores the relationship between Pope Benedict XVI and then-Cardinal Bergoglio (now Pope Francis). Bergoglio is trying to submit his resignation, and Benedict will have nothing of it. He constantly cuts the Cardinal off mid-sentence or just flat out ignores him. Benedict and Bergoglio have very different theological beliefs. Benedict is staunchly conservative, and Bergoglio is much more liberal. He believes that the Catholic church should be modernized and made more accessible for people in the world today. Benedict finds Bergoglio’s beliefs appalling, but for some reason finds the Cardinal to be magnetic. They both wrestle with past demons.
The film focuses more on Bergoglio than Benedict, which left me unsatisfied once the credits rolled. Benedict has a very controversial history, and his past is completely overlooked. When he confesses his past sins to Bergoglio, the sound is cut and we can’t hear him speaking. Bergoglio’s past is fleshed out through numerous flashbacks. Young Bergoglio is portrayed by Juan Minujin, who miraculously looks like a young Latin version of Jonathan Pryce. The casting and screenplay are the most impressive parts of “The Two Popes.” The dynamic between Hopkins and Pryce is electrifying.
The direction and cinematography leave a lot to be desired. Why do we need shaky cam in basic dialogue scenes? The amount of zooms and shakes made me feel like I was watching the film on a boat. Fernando Mereilles seems to have wanted to create a pseudo-documentary style for his film, but it contrasts so much with the script and performances that it fails miserably. The camera movements should have reflected the slow-moving, intellectual nature of the men the film is about, but it’s as if Mereilles didn’t trust the actors or writing he had at his disposal. Odd music choices are also made in the film’s soundtrack. I’m not sure that “Dancing Queen” would be my song of choice as I look at the mosaics of the Sistine Chapel.
Despite the arrogant and flashy camerawork and direction, I would recommend seeing the “The Two Popes” to learn more about the relationship between Pope Benedict and Francis and how their ideologies clashed. It also gives some wonderful backstory to a man that many consider to be a modern-day saint. The Pope is still just a man, and it’s always baffled me why those who follow Catholicism treat a handful of ordinary men with such holier-than-thou reverence.