There’s a strange, Herzog-ian musing about time that starts off Wim Wenders’ pandering documentary Pope Francis: A Man Of His Word. It talks about Francis of Assisi, the 13th-century visionary who reinterpreted the Bible, lived in poverty, preached peace and love, which was basically an affront to the corruption that ran rampant through the Catholic Church. This is accompanied by some kind of bizarre black-and-white footage that looked on-par with something you’d see on an episode of Unsolved Mysteries.
Enter then-Cardinal Francis, speaking in Buenos Aires back in 1979 about the need to love one-another as neighbors and as brothers, and overcome differences in the name of coming together. Which is basically an affront to the corruption that runs rampant through Christianity at large today.
This seems like a good time to say: Pope Francis is a great man. He’s a generation-defining figure who will be remembered as a force for good in a world that slowly goes up in flames around us. He’s The Peoples’ Pope. The Cool Pope. He transcends Catholicism, and even Christianity, with his sincere appeal to the goodness in everyone.
It’s perplexing then why Wenders, a three-time Oscar winner, can’t manage to craft even a slightly watchable documentary. In fact, documentary isn’t even the right word. It’s more like a sizzle real of The Cool Pope’s Greatest Hits, Vol I. Whether using interview clips with Pope Francis directly, or footage of him speaking to people in power the world over, his message resonates loud and clear. It just doesn’t make for a compelling 90 minutes.
Wenders flirts with moments, like when Pope Francis addressed a Joint Session of Congress back in 2015. While speaking about the need to care for the impoverished, the camera would cut to several self-avowed Christians who’s policies, some at that very moment, where doing the opposite. If Wenders addressed it with Pope Francis on camera, it never made the final cut. Instead, he passes off a three-second clip of Presidents Putin and Trump (*sighs heavily*) while Francis speaks of power and corruption.
As such, there’s no real conflict to draw you into A Man Of His Word. There’s no mention of the opposition against him, or the flood of so-called Catholics who take to the internet and Vaticansplain his own religion to him, or even Rick fucking Santorum’s truly idiotic moment (I know there’s a lot, stay with me here) when he said the Pope should “leave science to the scientists,” only to find out he has an extensive background in chemistry.
Bookending the doc is another scene with Francis of Assisi, the same narrator who sounds like they’ve been vaping and watching to many Herzog films, speaks of how his journey was brought to realization by Pope Francis. And that’s it. That’s the closure we’re supposed to walk away with.
I will say this: at one point, near the end, Pope Francis is giving a speech to some kind of Hollywood-centric audience, and you see Jim Gaffigan sitting in the background slightly out of focus. It wasn’t called attention to in the film (another lost opportunity), so I’m calling attention to it now.
Pope Francis: A Man Of His Word opens in theaters May 19th