Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 400-Word Review: Pope Francis: A Man of His Word

The careful documentary is a valuable document of the pontiff's philosophy. As a film, there are issues.

Photo courtesy Focus Features

It’s not a bold statement to assert that documentaries should be critical of their subjects — not necessarily negative, but with a bold and questioning viewpoint. Nonfiction filmmaking that tends toward the reverential is often less vital.

The Pope — historically, and currently — tends to inspire reverence.

And so “Pope Francis: A Man of His Word” is limited in what it can achieve. Its director and narrator, Wim Wenders, does not seek to investigate his high-profile subject; instead, Wenders gives Francis a loving and sturdy platform. Because this Pope is a compelling and likable figure, the results aren’t unpleasant. They are, however, remarkably flat.

Inasmuch as “A Man of His Word” is an exploration of anything, it’s a dive into the philosophy and mindset of the pontiff, born Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Wenders frames his film with ample comparison to Saint Francis of Assisi, including (oddly amateurish) recreations of the Pope’s 13th-century namesake; the film culminates in a Papal visit to Assisi.

Wenders draws a line between the Saint’s gospel of poverty and the current pontiff’s rejection of material goods and condemnation of personal wealth. Assuredly, there is something lightly radical about Pope Francis’ rejection of the ceremonial trappings of his office; perhaps the film’s best sequence watches the Pope read a list of 21st-century sins to the Cardinals of Rome, condemning the insular and onanistic tendencies of the Vatican.

While there are notable gaps in Pope Francis’ progressivism, his messages of environmentalism and the redistribution of wealth are beautifully stated and lovely to hear. And Wenders makes sure we hear them.


Very, very slowly.

Most of “A Man of His Word” consists of long, thoughtful shots of Pope Francis sitting and unwinding his philosophy. As such, it will no doubt be an important historical document and a valuable (and vital) viewing experience for Catholics the world over.

As a film ... not so much, I’m afraid.

Not only is there not enough storytelling in “A Man of His Word,” but the film is also quick to shy away from controversy. Francis addresses and condemns sexual assault by priests, but the matter is not explored. Francis’ soft-pedal support of the LGBTQ rights is here, but the broader church’s continued condemnations are missing. Were those subjects beyond the scope of this specific project, as Wenders envisioned it? Perhaps. Were they necessary for a true exploration of the Pope? I think so.

My Rating: 4/10

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit Module Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

A Slice of Pizza Kept Sean McDowell Going in the Early Days

After 41 years in the business, the legendary rock DJ on WDVE has announced his retirement.

This New App Will Help You Track Upcoming Cicada Swarm

Follow Brood VIII, which is expected to have three species of periodical cicadas emerging from the soil as early as this month, on the Cicada Safari App.

Best Restaurants in Pittsburgh in 2019

Our annual roundup of Pittsburgh's Best Restaurants covers a lot of ground. The list of 30 includes everything from fine dining at a resort hotel to a scrappy, farm-to-table breakfast and lunch counter in Bloomfield.

This Restless Pair are Pittsburgh Restaurateurs of the Year

Together, Richard DeShantz and Tolga Sevdik of the Richard DeShantz Restaurant Group form the Pittsburgh restaurant world's most dynamic duo.

Our 50 Years: The Best Restaurants of 1999

Twenty years later, nearly everything about our best restaurants list is different. But our picks for the best of 1999 hint at the great leap forward that was on the horizon.

How Pittsburgh's Homeless Teens Escape the Mean Streets

For homeless Youth, living on the street can end up being worse than what they’re running from. Gaining their trust and guiding them to safety is a long and painful process, but local agencies are making progress.

Announcing our Scenic Photo Contest Winner

There were 682 photos submitted to our Scenic Vistas photo contest, which ran during the month of April. Art Director Chuck Beard picked a winner and two runners-up.

Braddock Brewery Brew Gentlemen Turns Five

A deliberately slow fermentation has the young brewers primed for a big expansion.

Claudy Pierre is Non Stop

The owner of Arnold’s Tea spends his time connecting communities and working to empower a new generation of Pittsburghers.

Daytripping: Enjoy Comedy History 3 Hours from Pittsburgh

The national comedy center in Jamestown, N.Y. takes the whole comedy thing kinda seriously (just kidding)

Remembering Some of Mister Rogers' Famous Houseguests

A world renowned French pantomime artist, an astronaut, a TV news anchor and a beloved chef are among the notable visitors to Mister Rogers' neighborhood.

Perspectives: Call of the Wild

Award-winning journalist Sally Wiggin explains the evolving role of zoos, including the Pittsburgh zoo, to save endangered species from extinction.

Pirates’ First Quarter Record Defies Logic if Not Description

The 21-19 record the Bucs took to San Diego doesn’t add up given all they’ve had to overcome. Perhaps there’s more to this team than meets the eye.

The 400-Word Review: John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum

Keanu Reeves returns, and Halle Berry arrives, as the action series broadens its scope.

A Look at the Latest Restaurant Openings in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh says hello (again) to Dish Osteria, Cinderlands Warehouse, Pizzeria Davide and more.