"As housekeeper and secretary Madre Pascalina managed to create the human living space for Pius XII, which he needed, to fulfill his duties in a difficult time" (Benedict XVI)
I have decided to begin my review with Benedict XVI's words because they accurately address the very gist of who this humble and yet powerful and rock-willed person was. Seeing her as "the most powerful Bavarian ever in the Vatican," the Bavarian Pope's words have been practically yet implicitly incorporated into the portrayal displayed in this TV production.
Yes, Marcus Rosemueller's movie, with its length and almost clichéd features, bears resemblance with plenty of TV-productions - biopics primarily concerned with illustrations of an eminent figure and their world seen from the outside. They hardly tend to show anything insightful or intensely psychological. Premiering on German TV two years ago in two parts, it raised contradictory opinions among the critics. Beginning, actually, in media res at the Vatican on 19th July 1943 with the flashback to one Bavarian village Ebersberg in 1912, it gives a viewer a glimpse of what personality and what turmoiled storytelling they are going to see. Indeed, 'a difficult time' (with reference to the quotation)
TYPICAL BIOPIC: In that respect, GOTTESMAECHTIGE DIENERIN, which could be translated as a 'a female servant granted strength by God,' sister Pascalina Lehnert (1896-1983), with her determination and motivation, appears to be 'a female servant of cardinal Eugenio Pacelli (later Pope Pius XII)' In him, she sees the light for her motives and the target she desires to serve overcoming various obstacles. Her destiny filled with lessons of upgrading and lessons of suffering and penance beautifully correspond to those dramatic tensions. The most difficult obstacle, perhaps, will be edging her way within 'no town for women,' the Vatican, in order to make it put up with being 'a town with one exceptional woman.'
Much credit to Christine Neubauer who portrays the 'powerful Bavarian' with charm, wit, vibrant energy and imagination. She creates a sympathetic character who does not disappoint us in her concrete walk forward. Mind you she never remains in one place, she is never 'stopped.' Particularly memorable when taking risks to hitchhike to Rome or informing the pope about lunch while he talks to the British Ambassador as well as at quite difficult scenes with Mother Superior, Ms Neubauer delivers something deliciously edgy for a nun character. In the whole sequence at Altoetting where she belongs to the Order of Holy Cross, we see many scenes echoing old Hollywood 'nun movies' like NUN'S STORY with Audrey Hepburn where earthly tensions blend with godly passions. In a way, Ms Neubauer combines the worldly with the heavenly, though. She is particularly funny as the caring cook (disgusted by any hints of dedication shortage) and, later, the relations with one Monsignor Wilson (Wilfried Hochholdinger) at the Vatican who, finally, resorts to tolerance. There is light in her life and there are moments of sorrows. But the portrayal would not truly evoke historical accurateness if it were not for her 'male partner' in the role, Remo Girone who plays the last 'monarch' in the Holy See, the one whose throne seemed to be a radiant glory of 20 centuries, pope Pius XII.
In looks he does not resemble Papa Pacelli but in modesty combined with almost kingly manners, Mr Girone does a pretty good job. His role is somehow based on two dimensions: first, in his relation to Sister Pascalina (he teaches her forgiveness when encouraging her to go to her dying father - the symbolic bird between the two is a cute indication to pure relation), his aid and his spiritual friend; second, in his relation to the Bavaria of the times (while he is nuncios and plays a historic role in the Concordate with the Holy See) and the world of the times (while he is the Secretary of State during the pontiff of Pius XI and the Supreme Pontiff - 1939-1958). All events, historical events are in the background but they influence the characters placing them rightly in the historical realities. Something typical for such production...time is indicated by papal portraits on walls starting with Benedict XV who made Pacelli a bishop. I am glad there is a mention of Vatican's outright opposition to Fascism expressed in Pius XI's encyclicals MIT BRENNENDER SORGE as well as Jews being rescued and saved at the Vatican during the war. Although there is a controversial moment when Pius XII prefers to keep silence about the Holocaust, the portrayal is overall satisfactory.
And something that is a necessary aspect in a TV production like this: wit - even at the face of monarch-like Pope Pius XI when Sister Pascalina is granted a private audience and quotes...Bertholt Brecht. And in many other scenes that surprise viewers and make them laugh.
An interesting biopic, maybe too long but well worth watching in two parts as morally, pleasantly, historically, biographically educational stuff.
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