NEW YORK – "Do not be afraid to dream." That's one of the characteristic statements viewers encounter in the uplifting documentary "In Viaggio: The Travels of Pope Francis" (Magnolia).
Despite its depiction of some of the world's most pressing problems, filmmaker Gianfranco Rosi's polished retrospective maintains a tranquil tone as it looks back over the 37 journeys to 53 different countries undertaken by the pontiff during the first nine years of his pontificate. The result is thoughtful fare suitable for grown-ups and teens.
As Francis globe-trots from the halls of Congress to the Philippines and on to the streets of Havana, he speaks his mind about refugees, migrants, poverty, war and the need to imagine a better future. He also grapples with the scandalous abuse crisis in the Church and the all-too-understandable sensitivities it has created, especially among victims.
Rosi adopts a hands-off, cinema verite approach to his work, eschewing vocal narration and incorporating stretches of contemplative silence. Always meditative, his profile also is sometimes moving, as when it captures Francis' one-on-one exchanges with the inmates of a Mexican prison.
A sequence showing the Pope walking through a deserted St. Peter's Square at the height of the COVID pandemic is a striking reminder of the isolation to which that disease reduced so many around the world. In a voiceover, Francis ponders the possibility that the tragedy was the outcome of modern people's unwillingness to slow themselves down and listen to God's voice.
Along with the discussion of topics that make it inappropriate for youngsters, Rosi's picture also includes footage that might upset them. Thus we're shown real-life scenes of shipwreck, violent conflict and death.
While not pulling his punches, however, Rosi successfully captures the peaceable atmosphere that generally surrounds Pope Francis. Accordingly, his portrait of a pontiff on the move – energetically yet calmly bringing his message of hope to a rich variety of destinations – can be thought of as an appealing 80-minute opportunity for spiritual reflection.
The film contains mature themes, including the sexual abuse of children, potentially disturbing images and situations of peril. The OSV News classification is A-II – adults and adolescents. Not rated by the Motion Picture Association.