The Spotlight of Pope Francis. Using Film as a Tool for Edification.

by Roland Rozario

  1. Introduction

The word “politics” does not have a clear definition. Every scholar has their own interpretation, but one thing that can be concluded is that all of politics relates to human behavior and perception. Throughout history, religion also has played a significant role in how a person should behave. Although a country’s constitution holds precedent over its dominant religious laws, many religious laws still affect a person’s perception. For example, even though gay marriage is legal in Canada, some citizens are still offended by it because of religious reasons. “Studies of religion and politics…tend to view religion as a source of morals, symbols, and ideologies that bind people together…to validate political action”(Manglos 196). Since religious politics both have to do with behavior and perception, it is safe to say that politics is a part of religion and religion is a part of politics. To be powerful in politics and religion, one needs to have an influence over people’s behavior. There are many methods to do so. One of them is via film. In a journal article written by Welsh, Fleming, and Dowler, it is mentioned that “Films…play a pivotal role in the shaping of our perceptions and ideas” (Welsh 457). If film affects behavior and perception, it can be used to a political/ religious leader’s advantage. In the film The Two Popes, director Fernando Meirelles engages in politics regarding storytelling by helping transmit propaganda and providing a sense of satisfaction to the audience which ultimately creates a positive image for Pope Francis or Jorge Bergoglio. Although the film is “based” on a true story and not verbatim of reality, it can definitely be used as a tool to paint a positive picture of Pope Francis.

2. Transmission of Propaganda.

“Propaganda confirms rather than converts…beliefs of most consumers” (Cull 18). Films can be used to personify and or glorify a character. In the film The Two Popes, Bergoglio is shown as a protagonist and a hero of the story. The film is based on true events and in reality, Ratzinger was a pope that resigned for unknown reasons and Bergoglio took his place. Because of such an unconventional event, there were conspiracies as to whether Bergoglio did achieve the position legitimately. Pope Francis was also conspired to have relationships with oppressing men during the Argentinian military dictatorship. Although he denies being on the side of the military, there was no solid evidence that he was indeed engaged or not. Therefore many people had conflicting opinions. The film showed that he only associated with oppressing individuals to provide protection for the people. In the segment of the film where a flashback of the Bergoglio is shown during the dictatorship, Ratzinger says in present, “You used (your authority) to save dozens of lives, it’s in your file” (Meirelles 1:17:43). This allowed enforcement to perspectives of people that Pope Francis is a good person and was on the “good side”. Furthermore, for a leader to establish a good relationship with followers, he must yield to the demands of his or her followers. To portray such a relationship, the film shows Bergoglio attempting to change the conservative church system. Towards the end of the first conversation of the two popes in the garden, Bergoglio mentions, “It seems to me that ‘your’ church is moving in a direction that I can no longer condone, or not moving at all when the time demands movement”( Meirelles 00:27:05). The world is moving towards a system that accepts more liberal ideologies such as gay marriage, divorce, etc. These ideologies are opposed by the Catholic dogma. This led many Catholics to abandon Catechism. Bergoglio is shown to be the first Pope to turn away from such dogma and yield to the interest of the majority of the world. He is also shown to be doing charitable work such as working in a food bank, stopping evictions, and winning wrongfully convicted cases. Emphasizing that the Pope is functioning at the level of ordinary people and fighting for the system that the majority wants, the people can build trust in their leader and can paint a positive image about him.

3. Providing Satisfaction to the Audience

The Catholic Church community is one of the oldest institutions in the world. It had important roles such as providing society with a sense of order but it also has its dark chapters. Sensitive matters include a long history and evidence that prove that many clergymen were involved in sexually abusing children. Director Fernando Meirelles made use of mise en scene elements to acknowledge but dilute sensitive matters such as sexual abuse and emphasize Bergoglio as salvation to this problem. The acknowledgment of corruption regarding sexual abuse was made during the confession of Ratzinger. To dilute the sensitivity of the matter, the lighting of the scene was very bright. Usually a heavy moment like such would use dark lighting but the walls and the background was white.  Close-ups were used to signify the sad emotions the characters were experiencing which sprouts sympathy in the audience instead of anger against the church. As Ratzinger was revealing the information, the sound slowly faded away and a high pitched noise takes over. This helped to censor specific sensitive information which would induce less emotion in the audience. To provide the audience with a sense of cadence, Meirelles directs the story such that Bergoglio is the solution to the problem. Ratzinger says, “The voice is the last one I expected to hear Him (God) speak with. It was your voice” (Meirelles 1:42:46). This provides satisfaction to the audience that Pope Francis will fix everything. Furthermore, the screenplay and story also helped to direct the audience to think that Bergoglio is the protagonist and achieve a sense of satisfaction. The sensitive matter of sexual abuse was revealed towards the end of the film. Previous to that, the story was emphasizing and highlighting Bergoglio’s plausible journey. Therefore when a huge problem is introduced to the film, the audience subconsciously can conclude that Bergoglio is the solution to this problem and portrays Pope Francis in a positive light. Moreover, comedic relief was used to lessen the presence of political intent. Towards the end of the film, the Popes enjoy a soccer match together and shown to throw friendly taunts at each other. After perceiving clergymen with high ranks on a pedestal, it is hard for ordinary Catholics to imagine a Pope enjoying a soccer match. This acted as a tool that would allow the audience to connect personally with the Popes and push the thoughts of controversial and sensitive matter to the back of their memory. Lastly, at the very end, there is a scene of the candle smoke going up. In contrast, smoke traveled downwards before Ratzinger met with Bergoglio. A biblical story stated that two brothers made an offering to God by burning their farming yields. The smoke from the fire of the brother, who will soon become a murderer, went downwards instead of rising up. Implying, that in the presence of evil, smoke will go down and when smoke going is rising, it resembles peace. This leaves the audience on a positive note and walks away from the film telling themselves that “Pope Francis is a good Pope”.

3. Conclusion

If there were to be an arbitrary goal of edifying Pope Francis, it was achieved by transmitting propaganda and providing a sense of satisfaction to the audience. The film The Two Popes is very high on both political intent and content. It is not a documentary but it is very informative. Most of the story is true. Jorge Bergoglio is indeed the real Pope Francis. Since real characters and events are used, this film has the potential to mold one’s opinion. Yet the film will not claim that every single detail is true. The line that divides truth and fiction in this movie is blurred. The director might have done this to appeal to the majority of the people as most do not have the patience to watch a documentary and interviews. Therefore, a mix of both informative content and drama was used to produce this film. This is the reason why people should take content they consume with a grain of salt even though the content is based on a true story. It is not the true story it is based upon it. It is the duty of an individual to verify what they consume.

Works Cited

Cull, Nicholas John., et al. Propaganda and Mass Persuasion: a Historical Encyclopedia, 1500 to the Present. ABC-CLIO, 2003.

Manglos, N, and A Weinreb. “Religion and Interest in Politics in Sub-Saharan Africa.” Social Forces, vol. 91, no. 1, 19 June 2013, pp. 195–219.,

doi:https://doi-org.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/10.1093/sf/sot070.

Meirelles, F. “The Two Popes.” Netflix, 2019.

Welsh, A, et al. “Constructing Crime and Justice on Film: Meaning and Message in Cinema.” Contemporary Justice Review, vol. 14, no. 4, Dec. 2011, pp. 457–476., doi:https://doi.org/10.1080/10282580.2011.616376.

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