Biographical documentaries that view their subjects favorably always run the risk of excess hagiography, and when the subjects are religious leaders, that risk is especially pronounced. In the case of the Pope, this is not just the leader of a church with over a billion members but also a worldwide influencer of morality. Wisely then, Wim WendersPope Francis: A Man of His Word is not so much a portrait of the pontiff formerly known as Jorge Mario Bergoglio as much as it is a presentation of his message of love and the dignity of all human beings. And even if that had not been Wenders’ intention, one gets the sense that Francis would have insisted upon it, as he takes seriously his role as a servant of his people and only allows the spotlight upon himself if it serves to help and inspire others.

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As the first pope from the Americas, first from the Southern hemisphere, first of the Jesuit order, and first of his name, Francis has represented hope and progression for a great many people since his election five years ago, and it is clear that Wenders is one of those hopeful. Granted unprecedented access, his approach is to allow Francis to speak uninterrupted as much as he desires, for he “has no weapons other than words.” Presented in a mixture of private interviews delivered directly to the camera and public appearances at major international functions, Francis’ message is simple, and it avoids being platitudinous by often being disarming. “Do you play with your children?” he asks at one point, unequivocally establishing the importance of leisure for a fulfilling life. Questions on more challenging topics like priestly abuse and the place of women and LBGTQ individuals within the Church are broached, and while some may believe that Francis’ answers do not go far enough, they are much more open-minded and thoughtful than one might expect given historical precedent.

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Cinema is successful when it takes the viewer on an emotional journey, and on that score, I found A Man of His Word to be absolutely captivating. Its therapeutic value cannot be understated, and I hope that I am not the only who comes out of the theater with renewed hope that the future is bright. Even the potentially cheesy moments (i.e., the black-and-white interstitials of the life of St. Francis of Assisi, the pope’s namesake) come across as powerful. Francis’ mighty underscoring of love is invigorating on a visceral, physiological level, and any film that can be effective in that manner deserves attention.

Starring: Pope Francis

Director: Wim Wenders

Running Time: 96 Minutes

Rating: PG for Images of Poverty and Pollution

Release Date: May 18, 2018 (Limited)

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