An actor who turns out to be brilliant can be a director's dream, and Brazil's Fernando Meirelles (City of God, The Constant Gardner) got a bonanza when had not one but two performers par excellence. His latest, The Two Popes -- which bowed at the Telluride Film Festival on August 31, played at the recent Mumbai Film Festival – has Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce as the leads. And what a pair, and what superb pieces of acting.
The movie, coming at a time when the Catholic church is under a cloud with works like Spotlight highlighting child molestation and with the media talking about other forms of sexual excesses, The Two Popes may well be seen as a balm on the wounded soul. It is a very pleasing film that is at the same time arresting despite the fact that it is largely a chamber piece. But the engagements between Hopkins and Pryce are delightful and demonstrative. Both look so adorable, and so right in their own places and with their own points of view.
To hit the screens in American and England at the end of November, this Netflix original will start to stream on December 20.
The story of Pope Francis' surprise ascension in 2013, the movie has been written with a masterly touch by Anthony McCarten, and what is more, there is nothing, nothing preachy about it. What a blessed relief for some of us who might have trooped into the Mumbai auditorium wondering whether we would be sermonised. Nothing of this sort happens.
The film in just 126 minutes tells us the story of the shocking resignation of Pope Benedict XVI's (Hopkins) in 2013 and the appointment of the first ever Pope from Latin America, Francis (Pryce). It begins in 2005 when Pope John Paul II's death led to Benedict’s rise. But during that voting for a new Pope, the man who got the most number of votes after Benedict was Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio from Argentina.
Years later, Bergoglio resigns as Cardinal. He is angry with the scandals in the Catholic Church. This actually happened and is well documented. What follows is probably fiction that McCarten visualised. He pens a possible meeting between Benedict and Bergoglio, and during the several sessions that the two have in the Vatican (the movie could not be shot inside the Vatican), the Pope refuses to accept Cardinal Bergoglio's resignation. The Pope also makes up his mind that Bergoglio may be better suited to be the Pope, given his liberal outlook.
Wonderfully conceptualised and mounted, the conversations – which though may have never taken place but appear quite plausible – literally floored me. For, they were witty and intelligent. And let us not forget that here we have two titans essaying two diametrically opposite roles, men who came from different backgrounds and thought very differently from each other. Francis was admired for his progressive qualities, although he was attacked for having remained silent during the brutal military regime in Argentina.
A beautiful work that is not problematic, not preachy, and it talks less about religion more about humanity. How refreshing in today's times.
Will The Two Popes hit Indian theatres? I wish it does.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is an author and movie critic)