OTTAWA’S CINEMA FOR INTERNATIONAL AND INDEPENDENT MOVIES

The Two Popes

Inspired by true events

Sometimes, the magic of cinema can look deceptively simple. A brilliant director (Fernando Meirelles), two great actors (Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce), and a script that's a blessing from on high (by Andrew McCarten, The Theory Of Everything) combine to create this humorous and deftly layered chamber piece about Pope Benedict (Hopkins) and the Cardinal who would become the current Pontiff, Francis (Pryce).

Poster for the meeting-of-minds drama The Two PopesAll credit goes to Meirelles for lightening the mood. Only the Oscar-nominated director of City Of God would dare to jauntily cut ‘Dancing Queen’ to the procession of Cardinals getting ready to vote for the successor to Pope John Paul II in 2005. When the doors slam shut on the Papal Conclave, though, there’s an end to the merriment. 

Two main candidates – the staunchly traditionalist German Cardinal Ratzinger (Hopkins) and the reform-minded Cardinal Bergoglio (Pryce), from Argentina – emerge. Ultimately, Ratzinger is chosen and becomes Pope Benedict XVI.

We then jump to 2013. We have already been given an indication of Bergoglio’s modest life in Buenos Aires, and his love of football and tango, as well as his strong feelings that the church needs to reform if it is to survive. So it’s no surprise when he books a flight to Rome, to resign as Cardinal and retreat to parish priesthood.

Once there, over the course of several erudite, heartfelt and witty conversations, the two men do a delicate dance around each other, with the canny Ratzinger, harbouring his own agenda, attempting to second-guess the Argentine populist.

The two veteran actors, devouring a jewel of a script, are a joy to behold. Pryce relaxes into the role of a man of the people, delivering dialogue in fluent Spanish, rudimentary Italian and creaky Latin, as well as English, the lingua franca between the two men. Hopkins, for his part, hasn’t been this good in a long time.

Despite the fact that this is essentially a (magnificently broadened-out) chamber piece about two men at odds over theology and its interpretation, The Two Popes never preaches - making it all the more effective.

– Fionnuala Halligan, Screen International

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