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The Two Popes
Stars: Jonathan Pryce, Anthony Hopkins, Sidney Cole, Maria Ucedo, Emma Bonino, Thomas D. Williams and Lisandro Fiks
Director: Fernando Meirelles
Scriptwriter: Anthony McCarten
Composer: Bryce Dessner
Cinematographer: Cesar Charlone
Rating: PG 13
Running length: 130 Minutes
Anthony McCarten wrote a play called “The Two Popes,” based on a visit between Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio from Argentina. Bergoglio wants to retire, but as a Cardinal he has to have the Pope’s permission. Hence, a story about two opposites who meet and try to come to a mutual understanding. In the film version, Pope Benedict is played by Anthony Hopkins and Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio by Jonathan Pryce. Against the backdrop of the Vatican and its history, artwork and formal ways, we have a film that is beautifully photographed, thanks to Cinematographer Cesar Charlone, and a soundtrack that has modern and classical, thanks to composer Bryce Dessner. All that is needed now, is an audience. You.
The film begins with the death of one Pope and the election of another, Cardinal Ratizner of German descent, who becomes Benedict XVI. We see the voting process, beautiful robes and elaborate ceremony, going back centuries. The color of the smoke, white for a new pope and black for “we haven’t decided yet.” Ratizner comes to the be the new Pope with a suspicious background of being overly friendly with Nazi Germany. Through flashbacks, we see the history of Cardinal Bergoglio, his achievements---work with the poor---and his failure to stand up to the cruel Argentinean regime when thousands of people were disappearing. He, too, has a history. The weight of this through the years is too much for Bergoglio, so he requests a retirement. When he is called to the Vatican, asked to stay for several days. And is puzzled. The explanations for actions come hesitantly at times and truths come forward to be laid on the table like a deck of playing cards. What do you discard and what do you keep? Like a friendship, what to overlook (my friend is a bad cook) and what to keep (rescues animals.) There are moment of pathos and moments of humor as the two men walk the halls of the Vatican and Castle Gandolfo, the Pope’s summer residence. The Pope is always dressed formally, while Bergoglio needs help in choosing suitable clothes and amazed as the service and food provided him.
So, what do the men discuss---these men who lead thousands and millions of people in their religious beliefs? How to be friendlier to people…. mingle with the people and smile and be friendly (easy for some, difficult for others) …why the Church is losing people. There are other Church topics, too, and you will know them from newspaper headlines. How do two distant people become friends? They eat each other’s food, listen to each other’s music and even learn a few dance steps. Men of the cloth are human, after all.
“The Two Popes” has two actors who play off each other so well. This is another film that is a school of acting. Anthony Hopkins (remember “Silence of the Lambs?”) is the wise Benedict, who is unsure how to go out and meet people. His facial expressions go from annoyance to amazement. Jonathan Pryce ("Game of Thrones") portrays a meek person, indecisive, always aware that he is in the presence of a Pope, yet inquisitive, himself. Like two snowflakes floating toward each other in a storm, each different, yet in the same storm.
The rest of the cast has their place, as does the scenery, music, buildings and pageantry of Rome and the Vatican. You glance at the periphery of the scene and then you concentrate on the two actors who are portraying important figures of history. Oscar nomination time is coming closer and Hopkins and Pryce are sure to be nominated, as are Fernando Meirelles for Director, Anthony McCarten for Script, Bryce Dessner for Soundtrack and Cesar Charlone for Cinematography. This will be an interesting year for Oscar.
Copyright 2019 Marie Asner