Review: The People’s Pope

Chiamatemi Francesco: Il Papa della Gente (Call me Francis: The People’s Pope)
directed by Daniele Luchetti, 2015

Review by Eleanor Johnston and Wayne Fraser

We happened on an intriguing and ultimately challenging film, available through Netflix as a four-part mini-series. The 2015 Italian film, Chiamatemi Francesco, is about the life of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, an Argentine youth who liked playing soccer, reading and scholarship, who became a priest, a Bishop, a Cardinal and ultimately Pope Francis.

The musical score will make you want to tango. Change the audio setting for an English version. Call me Francis focuses on the years of Argentina’s “Dirty War” when the ruling military junta dealt with opposition through arrest, torture and murder. Thousands of people “disappeared” under this oppression.

The character of Bergoglio faces a crisis of conscience during these violent years, as he is called to protect people and priests under his care while staying alive himself.

To help two priests who have disappeared risked the ire of the junta, as well as his religious superiors. Not to help, to remain silent, risked the guilt of complicity.

This central conflict in the film’s portrayal of Bergoglio echoes that of Jesus against the religious and political oppressors of his time. Jesus knew that his words and actions would lead to arrest, torture and crucifixion, but the call of God’s kingdom led him to Jerusalem and confrontation with the authorities.

Actor Rodrigo de la Serna conveys the spiritual agony of this future Pope as he is forced to navigate between his calling as a priest and the realpolitik of Argentine society. At one moment, he celebrates Mass for the ruling general and dares to ask for the restoration of the disappeared, and, again by celebrating Mass, he helps the poor rescue their humble homes from destruction by developers and police.

The challenge for us, from the film as well as our Lord, is to follow the way of justice in our time. We are free in Canada to speak against injustice without fear of death squads. But are we too often silent, thereby complicit with the status quo that keeps so many oppressed and impoverished?

By taking the name Francis, the Pope aligns himself with the mystic of Assisi who lived for God’s Kingdom among the marginalized. Call me Francis dramatizes Jorge Bergoglio’s call to follow this same path.

We hope the People’s Pope continues to develop his commitment to the wellbeing of all nature, as well as all humanity.