“Pope Francis: A Man of His Word”

A documentary that lets you feel like you are in the same room with the Pope is something special. A film that affirms one’s core values is a delight. German director Wim Wenders centers his film on the sincerity and the holiness of Pope Francis. The seventy-two-year-old Wenders has directed other award winning documentaries that I have loved “ The Buena Vista Social Club” ( 1999 ) heralding Cuban Musicians. It was entrancing. His “ Salt of the Earth” ( 2014) was reviewed by me on Word Press ( May 11, 2015 ). In this documentary, Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado is lauded for his artful images and vision. We are entranced again.

Yet, Wenders considers “Pope Francis: A Man of His Word” his best film. His respect for the man and for his namesake, Saint Francis of Assisi, permeates the documentary.

Using straight on camera shots, Wenders fills the screen with Francis’s face. Pope Francis talks passionately about the inequality of the world’s wealth and about our responsibility to the Earth and to the poor. Psalm  53 is invoked: “ Do they not know better/ They feed upon people as they feed upon bread?” Love, compassion and unity mingle with mercy and hope for humanity. These are the words: “ Mercy, hope, humility~ whisper them in our sleep. Shout them, too.” The Pope’s eyes twinkle.

He is serious when he says, “ Serve God or serve money”. His eyes smile with tenderness “ Poverty is central to the Bible.” “ The more powerful you are, the more humble you should be.” Generosity is key. “ You can always add more water to the beans!” “We can all do with less.” He says no to an economy of exclusion. Eighty percent of the world’s  riches are in twenty per cent of the world’s hands.

Francis talks from his heart. As his recent encyclical states, we need to mend, to tend our common home. Our reckless exploitation of Earth is seen on monumental overlays superimposed over the Basilica’s facade. Image by image fills us with shame. Mother Earth is being plundered in our culture of waste. We must be her caretaker.

The dignity of work is stressed. One loses one’s dignity with lack of work. Work is seen as sacred: the most noble thing man has. Workers without rights, farmers without land , and indigenous peoples without homes all are addressed.

This is “The Who am I to judge him? “ Pope. Eight hundred years ago St. Francis tried to unite Muslims and Christians. Today, Pope Francis tells us that we are all children of Abraham. We should not be scared of the numbers of refugees. No one should be marginalized.

He asks for young, idealistic seekers to take a revolutionary path in changing the world. He leads through shepherding the world in not being indifferent to injustice and to suffering. The film can be viewed as a traveling sermon. It is one the world sorely needs.

“The Salt Of The Earth”

“You are the salt of the earth,but if the salt loses its savor how can it be made salty again?” Matthew 5:13

The less than two hour documentary “The Salt Of The Earth” lets us bask in beautiful French and Portuguese subtitles while exploring the spirituality and life work of the Brazilian-photographer,Sebastiao Salgado. When Salgado is on screen, he is artistically lighted with his bushy, gray eyebrows and aquiline nose and bald pate asking us to look more deeply. Co-directed by his son,Juliano Salgado, and Wim Wenders,this is a paean to a life of personal self-sacrifice in bearing witness to some of  this century’s most horrendous man-against-man violence. Munching on salted popcorn,alone,this was painful. My own spirit became deadened and my popcorn lost its savor. Guiltily,I wrestled with the beauty of the images: Niger 1973, the direct, drought- ridden stare of a woman not finding water; Ethiopia,where Coptic Christians leave the open caskets of dead babies not baptized,their eyes rigidly opened so that they can find their way out of limbo; Sudan 1984, images of starvation in Mali.

Salgado,an economist by training,became an adventurer and a photographer with the support of his wife,Leila. Leaving his family of two sons(one handicapped),Salgado is gone for months at a time. He documents the world with light and shadow,photographing groups of people in beautiful,starkly remote settings. Liberation Theology and Doctors Without Borders inform his awareness, and his images ours. He tells us that his “weapon of choice” is the camera. He states that the power of a portrait lies in the fraction of a second.

In Tanzania 1994: refugees are photographed;in Rwanda, genocide; in Yugoslavia,violence and contagious hatred; in Bosnia, piles of corpses and a schoolroom of skulls. Ten and a half years of travel adds Russia, Calcutta,and Kuwait. Salgado announces that his soul is sick, and so is ours. The recorder of images of devastation turns to nature photography. Here we see frames of shimmering iguana paws,gray surf and  brown velvet walruses with white gleaming tusks, silvered-lighted whales and eye -connecting gorillas.

In their book “Genesis 2013”,Salgado and Leila take a positive stance. One half of plant life still exists; they “jumpstart despair”. Returning to Brazil,they become rooted in place,planting more than two and one half million trees on the cattle farm of Salgado’s birth. The land becomes a model for how abused land can be reforested.

While the film can feel like National Geographic on steroids, the artfulness of the photography and the forgiveness and obvious pride of the son and co-director make seeing “The Salt Of The Earth” a thoughtful homage.