‘Francesco’ Evaluation: The Pope, Up Shut, however Not That Shut

Discovery + calculates “Francesco”, a portrait of Pope Francis, as “an unprecedented look at the man behind the fabric”. But while the filmmakers were able to speak to Pope Francis in person, much of the documentary came from one shift. The director, Evgeny Afineevsky, contains extensive footage of the Pope’s public appearances, images of his tweets and interviews with several people identified as “long-time friends of Pope Francis”.

This approach, which focuses on the message and not the messenger, seems to be in line with Francis’ modesty, and the film plays like a channel to spread his ideas about the environment, refugees and religious coexistence. All of this is for the good. Strictly speaking as a film, however, “Francesco” seems informal and used – a missed opportunity to take a closer look at the daily work of the Pope and possibly demystify elements of the papacy.

We learn, for example, that when Francis visited Myanmar in 2017, he did not refer by name to the Rohingya, the persecuted Muslim ethnic group in the country who adhered to the policy of the government of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi not to use the word (although he alluded to the group and a Rohingya refugee who met him in Bangladesh said the Pope later asked for forgiveness). How are such inherently political decisions made? “Francesco” does not explain.

The film doesn’t always shine. Juan Carlos Cruz, a victim of abuse by a priest in Chile, discusses how hard it was to see the Pope as “defamation” for a bishop covering up the abuse. But the film uses this to illustrate how Francis has grown. He met with Cruz and eventually debilitated the priest.

Not rated. In English, Spanish, Italian, Armenian and French with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 56 minutes. Watch on Discovery +.