A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Pope Francis: A Man of His Word is a documentary directed by Wim Wenders that features explanations from the pontiff about his thinking on several topics, including poverty, the environment, and the refugee crisis. While there's no sex, strong language, or drug use in the film, it does have images of real-world suffering that might upset younger/more sensitive viewers, including some of the Holocaust, very sick children in a hospital, and extreme poverty. Although he's the leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis' statements in the film aren't dogmatic in a religious sense; in fact, much of what he preaches is tolerance and inclusion -- including of other faiths. Some of the pope's words are translated into English as he speaks, while others are subtitled, making it easier to follow for kids who are old enough to read.
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What's the story?
POPE FRANCIS: A MAN OF HIS WORD is a fond take on the 266th sovereign of the Vatican City State. Previously known as Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the first pope from the Americas and the Southern Hemisphere makes his case in direct-address statements to the camera that accompany footage of him on visits to key locations around the world. He visits the poor, the sick, typhoon victims, the U.N., and the U.S. Congress. He speaks at length about several of his driving issues, including poverty, the environment, tolerance of other beliefs (including atheism), and the current refugee crisis.
Is it any good?
Pope Francis is a fascinating subject and an engaging speaker, but the film's lack of context slightly dims the brightness of its star. It's understandable that the documentary wouldn't seek to raise him up by lowering those who came before him; it seems unlikely that Francis himself would approve of that approach, and Vatican Media is a partner in Pope Francis: A Man of His Word. However, one of the primary threads of his tapestry is how he has broken from the Church's previous teachings in important areas. This is a pope who embraces science and other faiths, who has statistics at the ready to back his views, who isn't shy about sometimes urging political action. The only one of his "maverick" positions that's given significant time is his rejection of the luxuries of his office and criticism of any church's preoccupation with wealth. That's fortunate, as it seems to be a central theme of his St. Francis of Assisi-inspired life. Beyond that, though, there's not really any background. Bergoglio is shown addressing a crowd in 1999, but there's no other pre-pope footage of him, no interviews with those who knew him before, no commentary from him on his life before the clergy. So though we gain some intellectual insight into his strongly humanistic (rather than dogmatic) views, we're kept at arm's length from the man himself. While that approach allows admiration of his intelligence and conviction, it prohibits a deeper connection.
Director Wim Wenders, perhaps best known for intimate narrative films such as Paris, Texas and Wings of Desire, has also made highly praised documentaries such as Buena Vista Social Club. Here, he's perhaps too much in reverence of his subject, as demonstrated by his narration. That lack of journalistic rigor makes the film less compelling than it could have been. What emerges is an incomplete portrait that feels a bit too friendly and scrubbed but does offer viewers some up-close time with one of the most powerfully humanistic figures of our day.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how the media typically portrays religion. What do you expect when you see a religious figure in a film? Are there certain attitudes you expect? Is Pope Francis, as depicted here, in line with those expectations? Why or why not?
What, if anything, did the pope say in Pope Francis: A Man of His Word that surprised you or made you think?
Does the documentary have a point of view? That is, does the filmmaker seem to have opinions about Pope Francis and his beliefs? Is that OK? Are documentaries obliged to be objective?
Do you know anything about the popes who preceded Pope Francis? If so, does he seem different to you? Why or how? Do you think it's significant that he's the first to take the name "Francis"?
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