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Film / The Two Popes

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The Two Popes is a 2019 biographical comedy-drama directed by Fernando Meirelles (City of God, The Constant Gardener) and written by Anthony McCarten (The Theory of Everything, Darkest Hour, Bohemian Rhapsody).

It is based on the true story of the conservative traditionalist Pope Benedict XVI and his relationship with the reform-minded Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who came in second during the election that raised Benedict to the Papacy in 2005, where Benedict soon found himself overwhelmed by scandal and the demands of the office. When Bergoglio comes to Benedict to try to submit his resignation for other reasons, Benedict turns him down and through a series of conversations the two build up an understanding that would eventually lead to Benedict's nearly unprecedented decision to resign the Papacy in 2013, and allow Bergoglio to ascend as Pope Francis.

The movie stars Anthony Hopkins as Benedict and Jonathan Pryce as Francis. It premiered at the Telluride Film Festival ahead of a theatrical release in the US on November 27, 2019 and a streaming release on Netflix on December 20, 2019. The trailer can be seen here.

Tropes featured in The Two Popes include:

  • Anachronism Stew: The Mercedes-Benz E-class sedan that was used to transport Cardinal Bergoglio from the airport in Rome to the Castel Gandolfo Papal Residence was a 2017 model, which did not yet exist at the time of the events of the movie.
  • As You Know: Benedict refers to several times a Pope has resigned from the office and that 1978 had three Popes. Doubles as an Analogy Backfire as Bergoglio fairly points out that the three were not Pope at the same time as another was Pope.
  • Broad Strokes: The basics of the story are true, but the conversations between the characters were invented for dramatic purposes.
  • Casting Gag:
    • Jonathan Pryce's previous role as a change-bringing religious leader did not go unnoticed when he was cast as Francis.
    • This is not the first time that Pryce plays an important Argentine historical figure, having played Juan Domingo Perón in Evita.
  • Confessional: Used several times throughout the film. Bergoglio and Benedict's pasts are uncovered through their confessions to each other, and Bergoglio learns to be a less rigid priest after hearing many confessions.
  • Comically Missing the Point: When discussing The Beatles, Benedict doesn't know about "Eleanor Rigby" and thinks that Francis is talking about a woman.
  • Corrupt Church: A major financial scandal is the least of the Church's problems and while Benedict is personally honest his inflexibility means he can't get out from under the mess.
  • Darkest Hour: After the timeskip the Church is facing this. A massive financial scandal has erupted, the Pope's own butler is in jail for leaking documents exposing corruption to the media and his rigid conservativism is driving people from the Church. Also the child abuse scandal is still consuming the Church a decade after it erupted and Benedict is struggling to see a way to fix the mess. Realising he can't and Francis can is a major arc in the film.
  • Eating Lunch Alone: During Bergoglio's visit to Pope Benedict XVI's summer residence, the pope still chooses to eat dinner alone. One sign of the pope's and Bergoglio's warming friendship is when the pope agrees to have pizza with him.
  • End of an Age: The film opens with the death of John Paul II and the election of Benedict XVI. The rest of the film deals with Benedict realising his age and that of JPII has passed and its up to Bergoglio to take the church forward.
  • The Film of the Play: The film is based on a play written by Anthony McCarten titled simply The Pope.
  • Flashback: Flashbacks show Bergoglio's activitives during the Cold War, in which Argentina was ruled by a brutal military dictatorship that systematically arrested, tortured and executed anyone suspected of having communist ties.
  • Forced into Their Sunday Best: Bergoglio plans to visit Pope Benedict XVI in his everyday clericals, until his driver advises him that the pope prefers that his cardinals "look like cardinals." Bergoglio has to stop by a roadside eatery to change into his cardinal's outfit.
  • Foregone Conclusion: We know Benedict won't accept Bergoglio's resignation, and that by the end of the movie Bergoglio will become Pope Francis.
  • Germanic Depressives: Benedict finally cracks a joke, which falls flat with Bergoglio, leading to his explanation:
    A German joke. It doesn't have to be funny.
  • Gratuitous Foreign Language: As to be expected of a film of such theme, both Hopkins and Pryce use a lot of Latin in dialogue. Pryce has it more on his end as he also has to speak Spanish, which was then Cardinal Bergoglio's native tongue.
  • Hiding Behind the Language Barrier: Benedict states that he uses Latin for difficult announcements, since only 20% of the cardinals are fluent in it (and so only those 20% can be upset with him while the rest are struggling to understand).
  • Odd Friendship: The basis of the story is the relationship built between two men with disparate views of the Catholic Church.
  • Pop-Cultural Osmosis Failure: Zig-Zagged:
    Benedict: Do you know The Beatles?
    Francis: (laughs) Yes, I know who they are.
    Benedict: (laughs) Of course you do.
    Francis: Eleanor Rigby.
    Benedict: Who?
    Francis: Eleanor Rigby.
    Benedict: No, I don't know her.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Bergoglio is the red - a colorful man predisposed to jokes and raring for clerical change - to Ratzinger/Benedict - a bookish conservative with an eye for tradition. They switch roles when Benedict admits his intentions to resign, with Benedict seeing more humor in the situation ("In 1978, we had three popes") as the film goes on while Bergoglio tries to convince him that the occasional abdication in medieval times is not grounds for disrupting the Catholic Church as much as Benedict is willing to.
  • Refusal of the Call: Neither Benedict nor Francis had any ambitions to reach the Papacy until the office was within their reach.
  • Scenery Porn: The film takes every opportunity to shown off the beauty of the Vatican and the Pope's summer residence.
  • Shell-Shock Silence: Bergoglio falls into this as he's listening to Benedict's confessional. Since the movie expects the audience to know the broad strokes of Benedict's papacy with what little it gives away, Benedict's story where he admits turning a blind eye to the child sex abuse incidents is mostly silenced by a ringing noise.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: The solemn ritual of the Cardinals assembling to vote for the new Pope is scored with "Dancing Queen" by ABBA.
  • Speech-Centric Work: The bulk of the movie is built around conversations between Benedict and Francis.
  • Underdressed for the Occasion: Done intentionally. Pope Francis deliberately rejects the red shoes, mozzetta, and gold pectoral cross worn by predecessors, instead choosing to make his first appearance as pontiff on the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica in a simple white cassock. Also shown earlier in the movie when he dresses in standard Priest's clothing to say mass and when walking around Buenos Aires.
  • Undying Loyalty: Despite Bergoglio's personal disagreements with Benedict's papacy, he is horrified by Benedict revealing his intent to resign as Pope. Bergoglio argues that doing such will fundamentally damage the prestige and value of the papacy and the church.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: As this National Review article points out, many of the film's events - such as Bergoglio planning on resigning as Cardinal or Pope Benedict choosing him as a successor, along with just about all the conversations between the two - are pure fiction.