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The Lookout | April 19, 2021

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Review: ‘The Two Popes’ a subtle gem

Review: ‘The Two Popes’ a subtle gem

Four out of Five Stars

By Robin Morales
Associate Editor

Framed within the Catholic Church’s contemporary Vatican scandals, “The Two Popes” offers a dramatization of Pope Francis and Pope Benedict XVI and the differing ideologies each man embodies.

The film begins in 2005 with a question prompted by the death of Pope John Paul II: will the next pope adhere to orthodox interpretations of dogma, or will he bring the church to the present and address its crises?

At the subsequent papal conclave, the former position is represented most strongly by German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. The progressive outlook has its champion in Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio.

Director Fernando Meirelles keeps the two-hour film moving along at a strong pace, despite an occasionally sagging script from Anthony McCarten. At its worse, the dialogue becomes a discourse intended to explain the simplified versions of “liberal” and “conservative” Catholicism, which the film is so keen to label upon Francis and Benedict.

Interspersed in the present narrative are flashbacks to the younger Bergoglio in Buenos Aires. These sequences, and Meirelles’ mastery in using lighting techniques, the camera and music to weave past and present, are the strongest and most interesting points of the film.

In addition to humanizing Pope Francis and offering important contexts for his actions, the flashbacks most clearly explore one of the film’s central motifs: the importance of personal change in light of new realities.

The performances of Jonathan Price (Pope Francis) and Anthony Hopkins (Pope Benedict XVI) are praiseworthy for their control and subtility. Each cough from the aging Benedict and each chuckle and hand gesture from the livelier Francis flow naturally together. Their usage (sometimes extensive) of more than three languages is also commendable, and gives the film a sense of authenticity.

Furthermore, the attention to detail in both the set recreation of the Sistine Chapel, and in the costumes of the popes and cardinals, is brilliantly done.

“The Two Popes” is a film well worth viewing and is available for streaming on Netflix.