Directed by Gianfranco Rosi, In Viaggio: The Travels of Pope Francis becomes a surprisingly cinematic look at Pope Francis’ life. With very little commentary and no camera-facing interviews, Rosi’s film follows the Pontiff with an unflinching eye as we follow his journey around the world. Having visited 53 countries during the first nine years of his pontificate, Francis comes face-to-face with issues of poverty, war, abuse and many more yet must continue to give a message of hope to all.
Although the Viaggio may be compiled from footage sanctioned by the Vatican itself, it’s apparent that Rosi is not constrained to tell his story. Although he himself is not an identifying Catholic, Rosi clearly is intrigued by the humanity of his subject. Stringing the scenes together chronologically, Rosi paints a portrait of a man who bears the weight of history upon his shoulders. In each of Francis’ travels, the viewer finds someone who is revered by the Catholic Church but increasingly burdened by the struggles of the people around him.
Waving to the adoring crowds from his (surprisingly accessible) Pope Mobile, he is held with reverence and honour by those who have come to see him. However, Rosi also focuses his camera on the faces of his people. Although they have come to him for blessing, the pain of their lives remains the same. Stricken by poverty and disease, the people seek help from Francis and God. However, while Francis moves on to the next city, they are left to deal with reality.
But, at the same time, Viaggio invites the viewer to see the growing weight upon the Pope’s shoulders and the toll that it takes upon his own soul. Facing the hurts of those who have been afflicted by the damage caused by residential schools, church abuse scandals, devastating hurricanes and revolutions, Francis does not simply ignore the problems of others. In fact, Viaggio points out that this is a Pope who is willing to engage the more difficult issues of our culture, preaching hope and asking for forgiveness when necessary. As such, this becomes a sympathetic portrait of a man who is deemed to be God’s representative amongst the people of the earth.
But what’s most interesting about Pope Francis is his willingness to adapt his message without ever changing its core. Whether he is speaking amidst the broken and suffering from hurricanes or shaking hands with US presidents, Pope Francis calls for peace amongst the nations, despite ideological or religious differences. To him, war is never the answer. As such, he is willing to sit down with leaders of all religious faiths with humility and grace. What matters most to Francis is for the world come together in the midst of our differences and it affects every message he offers. He is a man who yearns for humanity to come together. For instance, this is most apparent near the end of the film as the Pontiff addresses the nation during the pandemic. Sitting alone at his desk in Vatican City, the viewers senses the loneliness that he experiences, yearning for humanity to love one another and for global suffering to end.
At the same time though, Francis is willing to adapt his message to his audience. If he is standing before those who have been broken by oppression or natural disasters, he speaks of hope and the coming Kingdom. However, when faced with the Western greed of the US Senate, he does not speak about living in poverty. Instead, he emphasizes the need to humble themselves and serve those who are hurting with compassion. His form changes but the heartbeat of his messages never wavers. Francis pleads with the world to dream forward for a Kingdom that isn’t here yet.
If we dream together, he believes that genuine change and healing can take place.
While there will be those unwilling to sit with a film of this nature, one can’t deny that Rosi has done a wonderful job of portraying the humanity of a role that’s often shrouded in mystery. Said to be God’s representative, it’s Pope Francis’ humanity that shines through. After all, regardless of his Divine appointment or message of hope, any man can be broken by seeing the world around him.
In Viaggio is available in theatres on Friday, March 31st, 2023.