"We could recall once again the kind and gentle personality of the Pope strong in faith, keeping to rules and yet, always open and smiling." (Benedict XVI after the premiere of the movie in the Vatican, October 2006)
Fatima, Portugal, 1977 - 60 years after the Apparitions of Virgin Mary to three Shepherd children. Among the group of pilgrims, we see a humble cardinal who does not use a pompous talk but speaks of heart, looks at the world and Divine Providence with childlike eyes. Soon, however, this humble cardinal enters the walls of the convent in Coimbra and sees the last seer of Fatima, sister Lucia dos Santos (1907-2005) who, in the most unpredictable circumstances, addresses him "Holy Father" Who is this special man? What is his mission? How did the vocation begin? What has brought him to this extraordinary place? Albino Luciani (1912-1978) known to the world for a short period of time as pope John Paul I, more affectionately, however, 'Il Sorriso Di Dio" - a smile of God, is the hero of this touching and captivating biopic.
The movie is predominantly dominated by a 'smile' - a sort of 'privilidge' of true saints but does this smile have anything to do with the ever present slogan KEEP SMILING?
It appears to be an obvious fact that since the Second Vatican Council that took place in the early 1960s, the image of the pope has changed. He has become a person closer to people, less a monarch and more a pastor, someone who does not limit his targets to activities of the Roman Catholic Church around the world but is more a father for all humanity. In this context, smile is something that draws a powerful emotional link with people. In this way, the 'Vicar of Christ' reveals the teachings of Jesus Christ to the world. And, primordially, the popes who come to the minds of many are John XXIII, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis now. But even the barely known (or at least mentioned in the media) Albino Luciani, the predecessor of Karol Wojtyla whose pontificate lasted for mere 33 days, offered something incredibly unique and individual to the Church. Neri Marcore, known in Italy mostly as a comedian, gives an outstanding performance. Let me analyze certain points not to spoil much of the content.
Neri Marcore portrays Albino Luciani as an austere Christian with such values as modesty, love, mercy, compassion, particularly gentle appearance. His smile is far from some fake mask but comes from the encounter with Christ. His style, also as a pope in the second part of the movie, shocks the 'great learned' ones but almost magnetizes simple people. In one scene, when asked why his speeches are so simple, he answers that listeners should come home with at least one thought in their minds. In another scene, he says that any war is the absolute evil, the opposition of Christ. He says a strict 'No' to sedia gestatoria as well as Pluralis Maiestatis (when pope used to address the people in the Plural form as 'We') He speaks of God as Mother (referring to the words of the great mystic Julian of Norwich), of poor Christ and of himself as a humble servant, Christ's poor vicar. That is incorporated into the biographical facts from his life, including his mission as a bishop of Vittorio Veneto, later the patriarch of Venice (similarly to Angelo Roncalli, later pope John XXIII). Therefore, no doubt he was seen as a sort of 'Don Camillo' in the Vatican by some cardinals. But this conflict appears to be deeper.
It is the conflict between two visions of the Church that arose after Vatican Council II. The director handles that in a subtle way displaying forgiveness, displaying regret of those who were against the pope. Yet, certain actions took more serious steps. Poor or wealthy, humble of powerful...it is all summed up in a beautiful sentence that Albino Luciani says to one Msr Marcinkus: we were taught to learn God of mercy, not god of money. That other side of the vision of the Church (which cannot be clearly seen as 'conservative' unlike 'liberal' for the Church is no political institution) is nicely personified by cardinal Villot (José Maria Blanco Martinez). In this context, we see John Paul I's spiritual growth. Pity that there is no single mention of John Paul I's particular fondness of Saint Gregory the Great (pontiff 590-604). That would nicely stress the continuity of the Church and explain some motives of Papa Luciani.
All the first part is, in a way, depicted in flashback when, historically or not, Luciani speaks with Sister Lucia. It is she (like it was the case with Padre Pio-Karol Wojtyla HISTORICAL meeting) who foretells his papacy. But one primordial aspect arises: God has mysteriously saved his life from danger in many circumstances. In one scene, a teenage Albino (still in Forno di Canale) almost falls from the rock in the mountains and calls on Jesus at a little cross that stands nearby. When saved, he finds vocation within his heart. In another scene, his lung illness mysteriously disappears. It's all handled with fine subtlety. The touching scenes include his mother's death, the meeting with cardinal Karol Wojtyla, and...so to say whenever he appears on the screen with a smile. From time to time, we see the archive footage, especially near the finale, that is beautifully incorporated into the movie.
A great film that manages to capture the gist of who this pope really was and remains for long in memory. Thank you, Giorgio Capitani, for depicting the figure of John Paul I in such an affectionate manner. The smile of God upon the face of the Smiling Pope touched by Love of Christ is what the world needs today. 9/10
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