Pope Francis presents his views and attitudes toward various social and religious issues confronting the world.
What This Film Is Not
In some ways, it is easier to describe what this film isn't than what it is.
It doesn’t have a traditional narrative. In fact, even for a documentary, it is remarkably non-narrative. It isn’t a presentation of a cause in the way that “An Inconvenient Truth” is. It isn’t the story of Pope Francis and how he became Pope nor is it a sermon disguised as a film.
It has no shocking twist, and you could probably guess the cliff notes of the film's message without ever seeing it. It isn't an apologetic for Catholicism, or a proselytes plea for converts, nor a condemnation of religion or science. It isn't a proclamation of what is wrong with the world and how Christianity is the only cure for it.
It isn't any of the things I expected.
A New Vernacular
When a Pope wants to share a great teaching, they write an Encyclical. It may be on many subjects all stemming from a singular thought, action, or passage of scripture, or it may be about a single subject and how that subject should affect our thoughts and actions. They are usually long, deep, philosophical and read mostly by only very committed Catholics or scholars. Even your average Catholic will never read one.
Instead, the average Catholic may hear bits and pieces of it explained from their priest, or on the radio, or even a friend, who will try to take a large teaching and make it digestible for the non-scholar.
This film, feels like one of those Encyclicals, or at least, one of those distillations for the average person. It is a portrait of Pope Francis’ thought, his life, not as it has been restructured into some narrative for a Hollywood adaptation, but as he says it and as he lives it.
As such, there is no real plot structure. Just a few interviews with Pope Francis which are set against different appearances he has made all over the world to governments, individuals, hospitals, and disaster zones.
Throughout these interviews and appearances you hear the Pope's teaching and see how it moves him to action and stillness. You begin to feel the depths of his words and how truly he believes them.
This film is like a video encyclical. It is a teaching written not in Latin, Italian, Spanish or English. It is written in on the screen, the sort of media most people in the modern world will consume. It is written in the new vernacular.
The other thing this film does so well is present an intimate portrait of Pope Francis. Here in America, we often only see little snippets of the Holy Father on TV when something he says gets claimed by one interest group or another (see even Pope Francis agrees with us). Like many figures, the view we get of him is very superficial and colored by the network we get that view from.
In "A Man of His Word," however, we get to hear his complete thoughts, not highlights. We see him smiling and joyful as well as tearful and heartbroken. The interviews are close. He addresses the camera. He seems not to be responding to an interviewer asking questions but instead, looking through the lens into the theater and speaking directly to the audience.
Though there have been three popes in my lifetime, and I have read several books by them, after seeing this film, I for the first time, feel like I know and love one of them. He seems like the sort of person you would love to have coffee with, but he wouldn't have time, because he has too many people who need more than coffee, but if he saw you crying, he would stop everything to comfort you.
His presence seems to reveal the character of those around him. The dignity of the poor and sick are revealed when he prays with them, and the hubris of the mighty is laid bare when he addresses government officials.
His person, is on display in this film, in a way that I have never experienced.
This is a very special film because of the person it is about. It isn't brilliantly made but the man the camera is focused on is brilliant in a way that raises the quality of the film. The life he is living and the heart he lives it from is beautiful and so the film is as well.
Through this movie and the life/teachings of Pope Francis we catch a glimpse of what is meant by the idea that Truth is a man not a proposition. He is seeking to embody a truth that is more profound than any formulae or equation.
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