It feels like a long time since Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles gave us City of God (2002) and The Constant Gardener (2005– the single worst title for a film in film history?)—but he’s back with this dialogue-heavy two-hander starring Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins. Both veteran actors are exceptional here.
Pryce, Hopkins and writer Anthony McCarten create two characters with great depth. Pryce Cardinal Bergoglio is a reformer, progressive, walking the streets, affable– charming, hums ABBA and the Beatles. An astute observation is made by another Cardinal that he meets the definition of a good leader, because he doesn’t want to be one. Hopkins’ Ratzinger/Benedict is much the opposite. He’s cold. He comes off as a politician “he really wants it”- he is conservative, insists on people dressing a certain way and speaking in Latin.
Much of the film is a discussion/debate between the two that blossoms into a true friendship. In this context, it’s not much different from stories like Driving Miss Daisy or Green Book. These are films with fine performances by good actors.
I think there might be a little bit more here artistically (maybe closed to Kiarostami’s Certified Copy or even Rohmer’s My Night at Maud’s because of Meirelles). He is not contented to just sit the camera in front of these two phenomenal characters. They are framed beautifully in many of the scenes. There’s a stunner at 34 minutes with a wooden door ajar (like Ozu or even the ending breathtaking shot from Scorsese’s The Irishman). The entire Sistine Chapel set design is stunning (one shot with Pryce perfectly symmetrical is almost exactly 1 hour into the movie). Murals galore and always framed by Meirelles to craft exceptional displays of mise-en-scene. I couldn’t find the image but there’s a gorgeous one in the black and white flashback sequence as a younger Bergoglio silently delivers the bad news to his fiancée about him deciding to turn to the priesthood.
Meirelles takes care great care in the arrangement of the actors and what is in the background while their engaging discussions and strong actors are in the foreground
My main hesitation in calling this a Highly Recommend is the decision by Meirelles to interject so much newsreel footage. It’s an undoubted weakness of the film—it adds nothing. It is poor form and does not gel with the immaculately curated frames.
I’m calling it a Recommend for now but could lean to a highly recommend with another visit