Review: ‘In Viaggio: The Travels of Pope Francis,’ starring Pope Francis

April 18, 2023

by Carla Hay

Pope Francis (center) in “In Viaggio: The Travels of Pope Francis” (Photo courtesy of Archivo Vatican Media/Magnolia Pictures)

“In Viaggio: The Travels of Pope Francis”

Directed by Gianfranco Rosi

Some language in Italian, Spanish and Portuguese with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place from 2013 to 2022, in various countries around the world, the documentary film “In Viaggo: The Travels of Pope Francis” features a racially diverse group of people (white, Latino, Asian and black) who gather to see or meet Pope Francis.

Culture Clash: During his travels, Pope Francis gives speeches where he speaks out against crimes, wars and social injustice. 

Culture Audience: “In Viaggio: The Travels of Pope Francis” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching “play it safe” documentaries about religious leaders.

Pope Francis in “In Viaggio: The Travels of Pope Francis” (Photo courtesy of Archivo Vatican Media/Magnolia Pictures)

The documentary “In Viaggio: The Travels of Pope Francis” consists almost entirely of archival news footage. Therefore, nothing new is revealed. It’s an up-close but not very personal compilation of Pope Francis’ international tour visits and some of his inspirational speeches.

Overall, the movie is good, but it’s not great. Non-religious people will probably get bored quickly by this documentary, but might want to keep watching the movie out of curiosity toe see the spectacle of how large crowds react to the Pope. “In Viaggo: The Travels of Pope Francis” had its world premiere at the 2022 Venice International Film Festival. (“In viaggo” means “traveling” in Italian.)

Directed by Gianfranco Rosi, “In Viaggio: The Travels of Pope Francis” has footage of the Pope’s travels to various countries from 2013 to 2022. Not surprisingly, he attracts the types of huge and diverse crowds that only the upper echelon of superstars can attract. Many people treat him like a god who can somehow make their lives better, if he can just look or nod in their direction. Ironically, this over-adulation of a human being is exactly what Pope Francis preaches against, since he has a reputation for being one of the humblest Popes of the past 100 years.

In between the footage of the screaming and adoring crowds, the documentary takes the time to show other footage, to put things in a larger context. In footage from his 2013 trip to Brazil, the massive and loud audience gathered to see the Pope is contrasted with footage of armed security soldiers up on the hills, watching the crowd but far from the sight of the crowd. It’s a reminder that Pope, as one of the most famous people in the world, needs this type of protection when he’s out in public.

During a visit to the Philippines in 2015, when the country was ravaged by Typhoon Koppu, also known as Typhoon Lando, the documentary shows footage from the typhoon. Footage of refugees dying at sea precedes footage of the Pope speaking in Lampedusa in 2015. He talks about immigrants dying at sea as something that “unfortunately occurs all too frequently … So I was moved to come here and pray.”

In a trip to the United States in 2015, the Pope speaks to members of the U.S. Congress and namechecks Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton when talking about peace and ending war. He also makes this comment on why there is such a problem with gun violence: “It’s money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood.”

On the same trip, he speaks sternly to a group of Catholic bishops about child sex abuse caused by Catholic clergy: “I continue to be ashamed, because people charged with the tender care of those little ones abused them and caused them great harm. I commit myself to ensuring that the Church makes every effort to protect minors, and I promise that those responsible will be held to account.” Most of the bishops have no reactions or no expression on their faces, while others shift a little uncomfortably in their seats.

After a while, the documentary has a repetitious pattern of showing Pope Francis being treated like a religious rock star and then giving speeches tailor-made for soundbites. During a 2018 trip to Chile, Pope Francis says, “Losing freedom does not mean losing our dreams and hopes.” At a speech in Mexico in 2016, Pope Francis talks about the evils of human trafficking.

While in Canada in 2022, Pope Francis speaks out against the marginalization and colonization of indigenous people. During a 2015 trip to the Central African Republic, he talks about unity among religions and is seen visiting the United Nations office in Nairobi. In the United Arab Emirates in 2019, Pope Francis gives a speech talking about having hope amid suffering.

You get the idea. And there’s footage of him paying respects to countries’ historical wounds. During visits in 2014 to Israel and Palestine, he’s shown visiting the West Bank barrier. He’s also seen on a bus speaking with members of the Pan-Orthodox Council. “I pray to the Lord for your Pan-Orthodox synod,” he comments.

While in Armenia in 2016, and in Turkey in 2014, Pope Francis preaches against the horrors of genocide. During his 2019 visit to Japan, he pays tribute to those whose lives were devastated by atomic bombs in 1945. There’s also footage of him during his 2021 trip to Iraq, his 2022 visit to Malta, and his 2022 tour of Canada. He’s also shown talking by satellite to members of the International Space Station, which he calls a “mini-United Nations.”

Because “In Viaggio: The Travels of Pope Francis” is not a truly intimate documentary of Pope Francis, everything looks very formal and emotionally sterile in moments that show the Pope away from the crowds. Pope Francis is friendly to everyone, but there are no moments that reveal the Pope to have any human flaws. Then again, based on the way that most people act when they’re around the Pope, that type of reality is something that they probably don’t want to see.

Magnolia Pictures released “In Viaggio: The Travels of Pope Francis” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on March 31, 2023.

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