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What it was like for Wim Wenders to document the Pope

We talked to the pope of arthouse cinema about making a movie on Pope Francis

by Thomas Morton
Jun 10 2018, 12:39pm

In the film world, disliking Wim Wenders is tantamount to heresy. Or rather, disliking Wim Wenders' movies. Disliking the man himself is nigh impossible given how kindly, soft-spoken, and sharp-looking he is for a man his age.

Incidentally, these are the same qualities that have made loving such films as Paris, Texas and Wings of Desire a matter of inviolable cinematic orthodoxy.

His works are such pristinely shot, immaculately conceived meditations on the relationship between space and humanity they're like visual homilies. Long, slow visual homilies.

It would make great copy if this is what Pope Francis had in mind when he selected Wim to be his official papal documentarian for the past two years, but he didn't even pick him.

Instead, Wenders was invited to follow around the most important religious leader on earth by some guy in the Vatican who apparently likes his films enough to overlook the fact that he's currently a Protestant and doesn't speak a word of the pope's native Spanish.

Despite Wenders having abandoned Catholicism half a century ago, the documentary he wound up making is not a Michael Moore-style, nor even a more subtle Errol Morris-style takedown of the supreme pontiff. Wenders is plainly taken with Francis and his personal commitment to the ascetic lifestyle of his namesake.

And while he doesn’t squander his chance to press the new pope on some of the church's more egregious failings, like sheltering child-molesting priests (though no mention of the papacy's continued condemnation of birth control and the countless lives it has damned to poverty), Pope Francis, A Man of His Word is about as glowing a halo-job of the titular wordsman as any unlapsed Catholic could’ve come up with. Just don't tell the guy at Film Forum that you found it a little slow.

This segment originally aired May 30, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.