Provided extensive access to Pope Francis, “Francesco” is essentially a valentine to his progressive policies and the role he has played in spurring the Catholic Church to address major crises, including the abuse scandal within. There are few revelations in this feature-length documentary, arriving stateside via new streaming service Discovery+ in advance of Easter.
Director Evgeny Afineevsky takes viewers through a series of issues and how the Pope has addressed and called attention to them in recent years, from climate change to the related refugee crisis, from Covid-19 to efforts to promote Middle East and acknowledging the Armenian genocide.
“The cries of the Earth and the cries of the poor cannot go on,” Pope Francis says, later noting, “We have failed to care for the Earth, our garden home.”
Friends and associates – from fellow members of the clergy to the Pope’s nephew – discuss his attempts to use the church in order to heal, with one citing his “genius” when it comes to building bridges. The documentary crisscrosses the globe, including his visit to Central Africa, reaching out to the Muslim population.
The stirring nature of this Pope’s actions is accompanied by equally stirring filmmaking trappings, the point where it’s easy to wish that Afineevsky would dial down the music and other elements that play like a promotional video.
In the most newsworthy comments, Francis discusses seeking forgiveness for the abuse scandal, and addresses greater accepting the LGBTQ community, in a way that made headlines when the documentary premiered last year at the Rome Film Festival. The Vatican, notably, recently stated that it will not bless same-sex unions, indicating that even with a progressive leader, change in such institutions doesn’t happen overnight.
The documentary also includes an interview with Chilean activist and abuse survivor Juan Carlos Cruz, who welcomes the Pope’s acknowledgment of what has transpired while citing the need for a “full cleansing” of the church that goes beyond defrocking members.
In his eight years as Pope, Francis has clearly been a transformative figure, whose legacy deserves to be both celebrated and objectively scrutinized.
“Francesco,” perhaps skewed to a degree by its access, tilts pretty heavily toward the former. In the process, it extols the progress that has come during Pope Francis’ tenure, while downplaying that in terms of efforts to reform an organization as rooted in its traditions as the Vatican, Rome wasn’t built in a day.
“Francesco” premieres in select theaters on March 26 and March 28 on Discovery+.