Review: The Holy Father in Close Focus in Pope Francis: A Man of His Word

This documentary about the first Jesuit pope, the first from the Americas and the first from below the equator, gives a great deal of insight into Pope Francis, who insists on being as informal as possible during his visits to other countries and always makes time to visit the less fortunate wherever he goes. It becomes clear early on that legendary director Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire, Buena Vista Social Club) has a great deal of affection for his subject’s beliefs on social justice, poverty, immigration, the environment, and particularly materialism, which he has shunned since his early days as a priest in his native Argentina.

Pope Francis Image courtesy of Focus Features

Francis has spent much of his time as Pope questioning a great deal of what the church stands for, in an effort to weed out corruption and have less of a focus on accumulating wealth for the institution. But he’s also has his eyes turned to more global concerns and frequently offers up unpopular opinions within his own ranks. The one question the film never answers is how did such a man get elected to his position?Instead, Wenders focuses more on making this a very personal story about Francis, concentrating a bit on his past and being given unprecedented access to the Pope’s day-to-day activities. The one-on-one interviews resonate with actual ideas about the role of faith and family in the world, and not simply towing the party line about the Catholic church.

It was especially heartening to see how accepted by and interested in other faiths Francis is, as he seeks out ways that all religions can exist peacefully on the planet, with the fear of terrorism or war among different faiths. Wenders has constructed a beautifully shot, streamlined work that allows the best framework for Pope Francis speak his mind and give voice to his reformist ideas. It’s great seeing him moving among his followers (particularly in his pre-Pope days), and the way so many who had given up believing that the Vatican cared about them have embraced Francis is extraordinary. The film, like its subject, strips away the adornment and lets his words and actions speak for him.

The film opens today at the Landmark Century Centre Cinema and AMC River East.
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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film ( and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.