AFI FEST 2019: CAPSULE REVIEWS
The American Film Institute’s annual film festival is arguably Los Angeles’ best and most comprehensive annual fete of feature, documentary, short, animated, domestic and foreign cinema, plus panels and parties, taking place in Hollywood from Nov. 14-21. Here are capsule reviews of some of AFI Fest 2019’s myriad productions.
THE TWO POPES: Film Review
Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles, who was Oscar-nominated for 2002’s City of God and Golden Globe-nommed for 2005’s The Constant Gardener, is back with another topical film, The Two Popes. At a gala in the TCL Chinese Theatre, 81-year-old Anthony Hopkins - who portrays Pope Benedict - told the AFI audience Popes had a “message” of “tolerance,” which Meirelles noted was extremely needed nowadays. Hopkins’ fellow Welsh thespian and co-star as Argentina-born Pope Francis, Jonathan Pryce (who played another religious leader, High Sparrow, in HBO’s Game of Thrones, as well as another Argentine, Juan Peron, in 1996’s Evita), also attended the screening, which was one of AFI 2019’s highlights.
Don’t be surprised if both Sir Anthony and Pryce are nominated for Best Actor for their superlative work in this film about the two Bishops of Rome.
This two hour-plus fact-inspired (if not based film) written by three-time Oscar-nominee Anthony McCarten (who wrote the biopics 2014’s The Theory of Everything about physicist Stephen Hawking, 2017’s Darkest Hour about Winston Churchill and 2018’s Bohemian Rhapsody about Freddie Mercury) includes some news clips in dramatizing the real life relationship of the German-born Pope, Cardinal Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger and his much more liberal, Buenos Aires-born successor is an actors’ movie. Rachel Weisz won the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for The Constant Gardener and Hopkins was Oscar-nommed three times and won the coveted Golden statuette for 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs. Don’t be surprised if both Sir Anthony and Pryce are nominated for Best Actor for their superlative work in this film about the two Bishops of Rome.
For a movie about godliness Popes is full of humanity. It is also extremely philosophical, although not overly religious. However, one will learn fascinating details about how the pontiff is chosen by the conclave of cardinals, and so on. There is also a highly informative subplot about Argentina’s military junta and the questionable role of Jorge Mario Bergoglio (portrayed as a young Jesuit by Argentine actor Juan Minujin) during the state terrorism of the so-called “Dirty War” from 1976-1983, decades before he became known as Pope Francis, the papacy’s first South American leader. I learned a lot about this period of harsh repression from the film, and it does moviegoers a service in dramatizing these forgotten, fascistic events. However, for some reasons there are no flashbacks to Ratzinger’s past during the Third Reich.
Recommended for You
Pope Francis named himself after my favorite saint, who gave his wealth away to the poor and spoke with the animals. In sharp contrast to the traditionalist Pope Benedict, derided by some in the movie (as in real life) as a “Nazi,” when he served as a cardinal and eventually as Holy Father, Bergoglio publicly eschewed ostentation and ornamentation, relaxed the ideological war on gays, and supported other reforms, earning the popular nickname of “the People’s Pope.” Bergoglio became the head of state representing the Holy See when the Vatican was rocked by banking and sexual molestation scandals. Their differences and relationship are captivating, especially considering the fact that two men who became pope haven’t been alive at the same time in 600 years.
The film also features sumptuous cinematography with South American and Roman locations, including aerial exterior shots of Vatican City. But the Vaticano interiors, including what seems to be the majestic Sistine Chapel by my favorite artist, Michelangelo, are recreated at Cinecitta Studios.
Given its subject matter, Popes is well-timed for a Christmas release on Dec. 20. With a billion-plus Catholics worldwide, this papal epic may have a built-in audience. However, some popcorn munching denizens of the multi-plex used to far more dynamic superheroes may consider this to be a snooze-fest about two old geezers gabbing with each other - even if their conversations are about the nature of god, Christianity, and other topics of import. Although about half an hour could arguably be cut out of The Two Popes, I nevertheless enjoyed it - and was thrilled to see, Hannibal Hopkins, the brilliant actor who played Captain Bligh in 1984’s The Bounty, in person. Shiver me timbers!
For more info: http://www.afi.com/afifest/.
The third edition of “The Hawaii Movie and Television Book”, co-authored by L.A.-based reviewer Ed Rampell, is available at: https://mutualpublishing.com/product/the-hawaii-movie-and-television-book/.