If You Plan to Watch Just One Movie In the Cinema This Month, Let It Be The Two Popes
A weary-looking Anthony Hopkins’ Pope Benedict XVI takes a seat on a white bench in an empty Sistine Chapel. Coincidentally, he does so next to the word “papa” painted on the wall. Seconds later, Jonathan Pryce as Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio sits on the other side of the text, prompting at the events that the two servants of the church would soon find themselves in. Papa is the Latin word for father, which is where the English term for pope originated from. This is the kind of imagery that the Netflix film The Two Popes uses as a storytelling device throughout the two hours that the viewer is glued to the screen.
The award-winning movie is said to be inspired by real-life events. Its premise might not have the excitement of a blockbuster film, which is most likely why director Fernando Meirelles laces the movie with a number of gripping elements—a playful soundtrack, an engaging script, and the unparalleled performances of both leading men.
The interpolated dialogue between Pope Benedict XVI and the future Pope Francis I does justice in humanizing otherwise unrelatable public figures. Each character is depicted clearly and without doubt—Pope Benedict, or Joseph Ratzinger, the stuffy, traditional, and by-the-book Bavarian head of the Vatican, while his counterpart, the Argentinian cardinal Jorge Bergoglio is portrayed as easy-going, funny, and unorthodox. The lead characters' dynamics throughout the film can be encapsulated in the exchange below:
“You’re very popular,” Ratzinger says.
“I just try to be myself,” Bergoglio responds.
“Whenever I try to be myself, people don’t seem to like me very much.”
In between historical flashbacks and present-time exchanges, wit and humor were obvious components to the dialogue. Whether true to character or not, Pryce’s Bergoglio provided comedic relief through one-liners and jokes, dispelling any air of solemnity. It’s become hard not to love him after sitting through the movie. Meanwhile, Hopkins’ Ratzinger is lovable in his own way, as an aloof and awkward old man who just wants to have dinners alone. Some of the best moments in the film happen, however, when both characters are seated together, engaging each other in conversation and slowly easing into a friendship.
Humorous elements are presented through the soundtrack as well. Songs such as ABBA’s Dancing Queen and The Beatles’ Blackbird make perfect cameos during seemingly serious and pivotal moments throughout the film.
The script was adapted from a 2017 play called The Pope, written by Anthony McCarten. Despite the exchange above, the film dips into darker parts of both popes’ histories and does not even spare the amiable Bergoglio. Through the film, audiences are given a glimpse of Bergoglio’s background, including how he reportedly had a relationship before deciding on a path to priesthood and how he played a controversial part in Argentina’s Dirty War in the ‘70s. Meanwhile, the movie centered widely on the time Pope Benedict XVI and the Catholic church faced scrutiny for the Vatican leaks scandal.
Because of the collective minute details interspersed throughout the film, The Two Popes is a cinematic triumph that deserves one’s undivided attention, sans any distraction caused by cellphones. The cinematography, for all its close-up shots, playful overhead pans, and stunning imagery, makes it worthy to be experienced in the quiet and solitude of a dark cinema.
Watch the trailer below:
The Two Popes premieres at the Cinema One Originals film festival in TriNoMa on November 16 and on Netflix on December 20.