07 October 2022 14:22
The documentary by a great director, Gianfranco Rosi, formerly the Golden Lion and the Golden Bear, has arrived in the room, dedicated to the only high voice and at the same time another, simply as powerfully human: that of Pope Francis. Travelling, presented Out of Competition in Venice, brings together with skill and depth – the real one that lies behind the apparent simplicity – heterogeneous materials making them homogeneous, unitary: the archive images of the Vatican on the journeys made by the pontiff in much of the planet, archive materials, extracted from other films, including that of Rosi himself, and finally unpublished material, specially shot. It is a masterpiece film in editing, which in cinema is equivalent to a second writing. But very humble and simple in presenting himself, just like the object of the film. A man who by placing himself as a friend tries to speak to the human being – understood as all humanity – since he now seems lost in a great nothingness, in a limbo, as the magnificent poster of the film seems to highlight, but trying to return a direction, a horizon line.
But there is also an evident geographical and interior mirroring in the intersection of the director’s movements and the pope’s pilgrimage, made explicit right from the production dossier. In 2013, as soon as he was elected, Francesco went to Lampedusa. In 2021 he makes an important trip to the Middle East, Iraq and Kurdistan. These are the same places told by Gianfranco Rosi in Fuocoammare (2016) e Night (2020). The fate of this meeting-crossing was therefore sealed, a positive predestination.
It begins in absolute silence with the face of Francesco filmed in profile and in the foreground. And then we hear his voice, but they are not words spoken at that moment. His lips don’t move. But the voice rises: “Never think that the fight you are conducting down here is completely useless … a seed of absolute beats in us … and above all, dream … do not be afraid to dream … dream of a world that is not yet seen but certainly will arrive”.
The spaces we have inserted correspond to as many moments of silence, to as many breaths of the soul. After these words there is still a silence and then some strange noises, of technologies or other, like dull noises that pervade the film until the end, something dripping, looming. Silence is the hallmark of this film directed by a secular director who takes us on a journey with the pope’s words even before with the images of his countless journeys. Silence that in this film we could paradoxically define as the sound equivalent of the off-screen in the visual field.
Hope and future
“The globalization of indifference has deprived us of the ability to cry,” says the pope who, moved, bites his lip a little and remains silent for a moment. This is followed by a resumption of the sea, of its horizon line, a line that loses its meaning – or rediscovers it, when the words of the pontiff are synchronized with the images – if understood as a symbol of hope and future, as well as an image of extraordinary and millennial power. , evocative and poetic for all brave travelers. Courageous travelers whose paradigm in our culture, even when fleeing from despair, is certainly represented by the figure of Ulysses. That line of a sea that has swallowed everything for too long, small and large bodies, small and large hopes. Here too a vision of the sea in silence, with the sound of the waves barely perceptible.
Of course, then follow the cheering shouts of the crowds cheering him, like those in Brazil, in 2013, but they almost seem to be in opposition: they are life. They are not limited to being illustrative sequences of the Pope’s journey, of his global pastoral action. But shortly after that noise returns outside the sound field, a distant shouting while in silence, motionless, soldiers and policemen with drawn weapons watch that no one pays attention to the success of that visit from the top of the mountain overlooking the metropolis.
The recovery of the depth and truth of images born elsewhere will prove to be a sort of mission: to help others see well and listen well.
And the whole film is practically a succession of silence in the images and even between the images, that is, right down to their interstices. The unspoken words and images separate and then intertwine with subtle and intense power: also because the images – especially those from life that cinema in its best expressions has been able to make art like no other form of communication of the twentieth century – it is bad if they explain everything, because they flatten what is depth, make life obvious, take away the truth. And this process of recovering the depth and truth of images born elsewhere – the director’s note not surprisingly speaks of “transforming films made for television needs into cinematographic language” – will reveal a sort of mission throughout the constant documentary: that of help others to see well and to listen well, but complied with simplicity, lightness, sobriety, without being exhibited. And this whether it is the devastated landscapes of the Amazon or the cries of individuals or many, images and sounds often mounted immediately before or immediately after the pope’s silences, grave or meditative silences. Or both. The eloquence of silence is the best companion of the eloquent, lofty words of Francis.
Like those on the “dignity that generates dignity”, on the dignity that turns out to be contagious, as he says to women and men in prison. Being deprived of freedom does not have to mean being deprived of dignity.
There are trips to Chile, Cuba, the Philippines, to the Central African Republic, visited in 2015, where children “play”, so to speak, with loaded machine guns, or even the slums of Kenya, again in the same year. Because the flow of travel always accompanies asking the big questions. And so in the Philippines, hit by typhoon Jolanda – one of the most violent and devastating of the century – we touch not only the issue of so much congenital poverty but probably also that caused by global warming. Migrants fleeing misery aggravated by environmental degradation who are not recognized as refugees by international conventions is another important denunciation of the pope.
And then silence returns again in the 2014 trip to Israel to honor and highlight the most terrible horror of modern history – “in this memorial of the Shoah we hear the question: ‘Where are you a man? Where have you ended up? ‘”- silence and words to which the vibrant words of the Palestinians, expressed by“ those who are still in the refugee camps after 66 years, complement and counterpoint ”. And then inevitably wars, which now risk “no longer being torn to pieces but involving everything”, because war has only one possible “development plan”, “destruction”.
Leaving the “war pattern” therefore raises the question of why we continually fall back into it: to say, for example, that we always need new weapons to defend ourselves, this is equivalent to the “war pattern”: why have new weapons while cutting on everything else, if not to use them later? This is because “we cannot think with another scheme”, because we are not “used to thinking in the scheme of peace”. Words that off-screen make the senseless specter of nuclear war more and more visible, with bombs that were already infinitely more powerful in the 1980s than those dropped in 1945 on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Hiroshima, another place of the memory of pain and another place of silence visited by Francis.
But there are also uncomfortable moments, such as those on pedophilia, on the words in initial defense of the Chilean bishop Barros (who later resigned), received as offensive by the victims, and the Pope’s words of apology, and then again the images of the Chilean police who it keeps away those who vehemently protest about the protection of the rapists of children among the clergymen. All this comes quite early in Rosi’s film, there is no escaping it.
And then there is a lot of photography of poverty, without ever becoming a photograph of the surface alone, thanks also to Francesco who always seeks deep empathy towards the other. As in the visit to Mexico in 2016, to Ciudad Juárez, where the head of the Church speaks of human beings “enslaved, kidnapped, subject to extortion” to which the images of a dense human stream flowing over a large bridge and then counterpoint words that may seem almost subversive for those who are now blind and no longer dreaming: “The problem of security is not solved only by incarceration, but by overcoming the cage of social deception which believes that security and order can only be obtained by incarcerating. Anyone who has suffered maximum pain and, we could say, has experienced hell, can become a prophet of society ”. The reverse can become the forehand.
And then again the silence during the meeting between Bergoglio and the Turkish President Erdoğan is elbow to elbow with the words of the pope on the genocide of the Armenians, as the first great modern genocide – words harbinger of controversy – up to the reversed situation of a “Deafening silence” and a “desolating void”: that of the pandemic of 2020 and an empty St. Peter’s Square, of a bishop without his people, therefore deprived of life because life had been locked up.
This silence is the one from which words arise best, in all their strength: in the film at times they seem so almost to tear through the silence, the silences.
For a master director of auteur documentary, a discourse as a distant observer, almost as an entomologist, and at the same time highly spiritual, ends and reopens, a dialectic that seems to pervade him since the beginning of his now rich cinematography. Whether it’s a mercenary assassin – as in The Sicario – Room 164 (2010) – or of the pope, Rosi’s cinema never judges, judgment is always left out of the picture. Leaving us free spirits to elaborate their own judgment. A secular and at the same time Christian attitude, since after all God created the human being free, that is, free to choose between good and evil. And therefore free to really understand.
And this is true in Rosi’s cinema even when he searches for beauty as much as possible even in war, in horror, as he did in his previous feature film, the masterpiece. Night, but putting them – the beautiful and the ugly – in dialectic with each other, accepting their ambiguities, in order to explore knowledge right into the interstices of sounds and images. Knowledge that in cinema comes from the gaze since cinema is gaze. A gaze that must return authentic, pure, and here, following the pope’s gaze on the world, Francis and cinema merge, become one.