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Film review: “The Two Popes” provides perspective

At the 77th Golden Globes, an unprecedented three of the five Motion Picture – Drama nominees were Netflix properties. While “The Irishman” and “Marriage Story” were directed by Martin Scorsese and Noah Baumbach, two directors that have had many films released in the last decade, the third Netflix film in the competition was directed by a name that hadn’t been announced in a while. Fernando Meirelles, best known for his 2002 film “City of God,” helmed the third Netflix nominee “The Two Popes.” 

“The Two Popes” follows the true story of Catholic Cardinals Joseph Ratzinger (Anthony Hopkins) and Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce) after the death of Pope John Paul II. The Church is at a crossroads in choosing who will assume the papacy: the traditional Ratzinger or the progressive Bergoglio. 

When Ratzinger is selected to assume the papacy, Bergoglio visits him intending to resign as archbishop. Soon both men experience a transformation in their faith as Bergoglio attempts to convince the Church to be more compassionate and forgiving. Flashbacks of events that lead him to believe in a more allowing practice when he was a young man in South America replay as the two discuss philosophies.

The Oscar-nominated screenplay is adapted from the play “The Pope” by Anthony McCarten, who has also authored biopics such as “The Theory of Everything,” “Darkest Hour” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Although real-world events and published speeches, letters and debates were used in “The Two Popes,” much of the film is a work of fiction. The conversations are all mostly imagined, but McCarten’s experience in writing shines through to formulate thought-provoking dialogue.

The film is absolutely gorgeous with much of the film employing shots that focus on the immaculate architecture around the characters, giving “The Two Popes” a very ‘heavenly’ feel. The film was mostly shot in and around Rome, with other shorter scenes shot in Buenos Aires. The Sistine Chapel interior was constructed in eight weeks in Cinecittà Studios, the largest studio in Europe.

Pryce and Hopkins have been nominated as Best Actor and Supporting Actor, respectively, for Golden Globes, British Academy of  Film and Television Arts awards, and Oscars. The two veterans of the craft work very well together. The spiritual dynamism becomes increasingly apparent through their passionate dialogue. As the movie progresses, they open up to each other and it is revealed that they are comfortable learning different perspectives. Their passive rivalry disintegrates as they confide in each other. The duo’s chemistry as young-at-heart learned gentlemen is sometimes quite comical, like when they discuss the Beatles or the World Cup. Ever since Pryce was featured in HBO’s “Game of Thrones” as the High Sparrow, fans took to the Internet to peg him as a dead-ringer for Pope Francis, due to his uncanny likeness to the Pope.

The film accentuates the importance of how faith ebbs and flows as people grow in life. True, this film would appeal most to Christians, but the story of morals evolving as experiences change is a universal understanding. “The Two Popes” is a modern story about a centuries-old religion, delivering a chance for reflection on one’s own principles.

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