Pope Francis: A Man of His Word – Movie Review

By Leslie C. Halpern

More of a tribute than a balanced documentary, Pope Francis: A Man of His Word examines the public life and philosophical beliefs of the current pope.

Pope Francis: A Man of His Word. Photo copyright 2018 Focus Features.

This oddly constructed documentary begins with an eerie narration by director Wim Wenders about how time flies, the Earth is dying, and people are destroying species on a daily basis. More of this narration appears throughout the documentary. A recreated black-and-white scene of Saint Francis of Assisi, after whom the current pope models his beliefs, follows the introduction.

A Vow of Poverty

Saint Francis is best remembered for his vow of poverty, love for all humanity, and commitment to nature. These flashback scenes of Saint Francis also appear throughout the film and draw parallels between the past and present. These two creative choices – director’s narration and B&W recreated historical flashbacks – help break up the monotony of a talking head, but feel awkwardly out of place with the rest of the material.

When not exploring these two tangential areas, the bulk of the documentary directly concerns Pope Francis and his messages for everyone around the world, regardless of religion (or lack of it). These messages focus (not surprisingly based on the introduction) on aiding the poor, sick, and outcast members of society, loving everyone and embracing their differences, and cleaning up the environment. Shown delivering public addresses and in private interviews, he advocates all churches placing their hope on the people, not their money, and that work, land, and home are essential to a fulfilling life. Without a place to live, however, all other points are moot: “Protecting the planet is our most important task today,” he says.

We Are Not Machines

In many cases, exclusive footage shows Pope Francis visiting prisons, children’s hospitals, typhoon-ravaged areas, huge assemblies, and political meetings. He also flies in a private jet and rides in his Pope Mobile to wave to the people during scheduled appearances and official proceedings. We learn of the humble life he prefers to live and the small car in which he normally rides when not participating in an official capacity. Based on what this documentary chooses to reveal, Pope Francis is indeed a man of his word. “We are not machines,” he says, yet most of us “live with the accelerator down all the time.” He consciously chooses not to do this.

If Wenders’s only goal was to show the world how closely the current pope strives to emulate Saint Francis of Assisi, then we can rate this film a huge success. If the documentary is evaluated in terms of its artistic cohesion, balanced presentation, and overall enjoyment, then it’s far less successful.

Pope Francis: A Man of His Word

  • Exploring his message more than the man himself, this biographical documentary follows Pope Francis as he travels the world espousing integration, inclusivity, hope, and love.
  • Stars: Pope Francis, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, John Kerry, Angela Merkel, Barack Obama, Shimon Perez, Vladimir Putin, Donald J. Trump, Melania Trump, Wim Wenders (narrator)
  • Director-Writer: Wim Wenders
  • Genre: Documentary
  • Run Time: 96 minutes
  • Additional Information: Watch a trailer for this film.