'Call Me Francesco': Film Review

Courtesy of Film Society of Lincoln Center
Although suffering from choppy storytelling, this nuanced biographical portrait admirably resists hagiography.

Daniele Luchetti's biopic largely concentrates on the early years of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, later to become Pope Francis.

Rodrigo De La Serna (The Motorcycle Diaries) delivers a subtle and complex performance as the future pontiff in Call Me Francesco, Daniele Luchetti's biopic about Pope Francis. Although choppily episodic in structure — the film is being released in some territories as a significantly longer television miniseriesit is a refreshingly nuanced portrait that resists hagiography. The pic, which received its world premiere at the Vatican, was recently showcased at the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series.

Call Me Francesco opens with a section focusing on Jorge Mario Bergoglio's early years, beginning in Buenos Aires in 1960 in which he's seen in his early 20s enjoying a healthy social life with friends, including a girlfriend whom he came close to marrying. It then moves forward to concentrate on the years 1976-1983 during the height of Argentina's "Dirty Wars" in which the military government brutally oppressed the left-wing opposition.

It's this period, when Bergoglio was a Jesuit leader and forced to deal with the authoritarian government, which inspires one of the film's more dramatic scenes. Obeying orders from his superiors, he withdraws protection from two priests who were subsequently abducted and tortured by the military. The episode dramatically illustrates the dangerously thin line the future pope was forced to walk at a time of great peril to himself.

But while the biopic portrays its subject as a pragmatic negotiator, it also showcases his courageous side in such moments as when he conducts a private mass for the Argentine president and confronts him about the "disappeared" political dissidents and their families desperate to know their fates. It also shows him providing secret sanctuary in his seminary to students who had incurred the government's wrath.

Call Me Francesco also covers his ascent to the papacy, with the older Bergoglio well played by Sergio Hernandez. But while it presents a moving depiction of his doubts and insecurities, the film frustratingly doesn't delve too deeply into the inner machinations that led to his unlikely selection.

Venue: Open Roads: New Italian Cinema
Production company: TaoDue Film
Cast: Rodrigo De La Serna, Sergio Hernandez, Muriel Santa Ana, Jose Angel Egido, Alex Brendemuhl, Mercedes Moran
Director-producer: Pietro Valsecchi
Directors of photography: Ivan Casalgrandi
Production designer: Mercedes Alfonsin
Editor: Francesco Garrone
Composer: Arturo Cardelus
Casting: Deborah Kurtz, Chiara Polizzi

Not rated, 98 minutes