A powerful meditation on recent history, on the road premiered out of competition at the Venice Film Festival. Directed by previous Golden Lion winner Gianfranco Rosi, it follows the travels of Pope Francis, using mostly archival footage to paint not just a picture of the man, but of the modern world.
Rosi was inspired by the fact that two of Francis’s journeys mirrored her own, for the films fuocoammare (fire in the sea2016) and Noturn (2020). The documentary filmmaker includes his own images with those from the news archives, but the voice of Pope Francis is the main one throughout the film. While reporters and supporters are occasionally heard, the emphasis is on Francis, creating a singular tone. His soft voice messages are combined with classical music, often choral, to a hypnotic effect.
We see him visit women’s and men’s prisons, where he preaches about dignity and dreams. We see him talking about the power of collaborating with other religions, rather than antagonizing them. We also see him at press conferences, grappling with tough questions: While this isn’t warts and it’s a biopic, it’s not entirely shying away from controversy.
Pope Francis is presented as a gentle man who is concerned about the modern world but hopeful about humanity, perhaps qualities that Rosi himself shares. The couple certainly share a passion for travel, as the title suggests.
In 2019, Jonathan Pryce, starring the two popes he took an approachable approach to portraying the relatively progressive nature of Francis. This works as a more serious companion piece, reflecting on some of his biggest concerns, from poverty to the environment to war. It doesn’t offer easy answers, and it certainly doesn’t suggest that the Catholic Church has them, but it is a moving reflection on the world’s trials and a tribute to those who seek to change them.