It was in 2013 that Jorge Mario Bergoglio became known to the world as Pope Francis, a beacon of hope it would seem, somewhat progressive, for a Catholic church that had for years struggled within the darkness of a sex abuse scandal that neither Pope John Paul II or Pope Benedict XVI had effectively addressed. This man, this Pope, it was believed would be different.
Over the course of filming In Viaggio: The Travels of Pope Francis, award-winning documentarian Gianfranco Rosi allows us a surprisingly accessible and immersive glimpse into the world of Pope Francis that both explains that sense of hope yet also realistically portrays its obstacles. We are told in the opening moments of the film that over the course of filming, approximately nine years, Pope Francis has visited 53 countries in 37 trips despite the seemingly inevitable exhaustion of being increasily infirmed and in his mid-80s while also having at least a third of this time exist during a global pandemic.
The beloved Popemobile features prominently throughout the film, an image of both wonder and amusement. Nearly always, Rosi has a camera affixed to the back of the vehicle and we are seemingly adjoined to Pope Francis as he methodically, dutifully, and compasionately waves to masses that occasionally near mass hysteria and nearly always achieve complete adoration. The gravity of what it means to be Pope is caught early, a distress call captured by the Italian coast guard becoming aware of a boat carrying 250 migrants when a storm capsizes the vessel and all are lost.
Watching the Pope is mesmerizing. It becomes clear why the world seemingly loves him even during times when he frustrates that world. Indeed, Rosi captures beautifully a Pope who longs for quieter connection and whose infirmities seem less infirm when he is given room to be the pastor he is clearly called to be. While the glitz and glamour of this life is visually arresting, In Viaggio most captivates when Pope Francis comes face-to-face with the poor, imprisoned, refugee, and the seemingly forgotten. He seems more tired and burdened by the excess than anything, subjecting himself willingly for the sake of the Church yet clearly uncomfortable with this aspect of his life as leader of the Catholic Church. When he proclaims "this is a society that has forgotten how to weep," one easily believes that Pope Francis does, indeed, still weep for those who suffer.
Given remarkable access to Pope Francis, Gianfranco Rosi captures the uniqueness of each place he visits whether it be Mexican prisoners, babies in the Philippines, Palestinian refugees, or an obviously squirming American Congress.
I suppose we should get back to that sense of hope. While far from perfect, Pope Francis has, perhaps, owned more of the Catholic Church's wrongs that any Pope in recent memory. He has apologized to Indigenous Canadians, members of the Orthodox Church and, yes, he has apologized for the long history of child sex abuse and apologized again when he at least appeared to defend a Chilean priest accused of abuse. There's something uncommonly remarkable about the latter, imperfect certainly, yet refreshing in its humility as he recognizes the wrongness of his behavior and seemingly repents.
So, maybe Pope Francis does actually represent some sort of hope that is more personal than universal. Rather than a broad stroke, Pope Francis opens his heart and speaks from that heart as best he can. It's a reminder, I suppose, that we're all part of the problem and we're all part of the solution.
In Viaggio is neither a glorification of the Pope nor a film that delves particularly deeply inside the Catholic Church's deepest controversies. Instead, it delves deeply into the heart of a man who seemingly feels both that sense of call to serve and a bit overwhelmed by that call. In Viaggio captures the complexity of Pope Francis's humanity yet also the sacredness of this most holy journey.
Picked up by indie distributor Magnolia Pictures, In Viaggio arrives in limited nationwide release on March 31st.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic