Review by Sean Boelman
Documentaries about religious figures are often approached with wariness out of the fear that they could end up being little more than propaganda, but the fact that In Viaggio: The Travels of Pope Francis was made by acclaimed documentarian Gianfranco Rosi (Fire at Sea) was encouraging. Although In Viaggio isn’t quite propaganda, it is also frustratingly shallow.
In the film, we follow Pope Francis in the first nine years of his pontificate, as he travels to 53 countries on 37 different trips. Throughout this journey, Pope Francis encounters and speaks on some of the most important issues facing the world today, from poverty to migration and even the environment and war.
The movie is almost entirely made up of archive footage compiled from Pope Francis’s travels across the world, visiting and addressing the citizens of countries all over the place. Considering that it is directed by Rosi — who is known for his visually stunning documentaries — it’s a bit disappointing that the film is almost all archive footage (and close-ups of the Pope’s face, at that).
Even at a mere eighty minutes in length, the movie starts to grow monotonous after a while. This is especially true since the speeches he gives are somewhat similar in nature and message. It’s interesting to see the slight differences in what he says based on where he is speaking, but the novelty of this wears off quite quickly.
The message of the film is undeniably good — one of hope, love, peace, and acceptance — but it also feels very heavy-handed. Ultimately, it’s understandable that the movie feels like it is preaching to the viewer because it effectively is. Pope Francis is speaking to his followers in a way that is clearly meant to be teaching, and the film can’t shake the feeling of subjecting the audience to that.
Some of the more interesting portions of the movie follow Pope Francis as he rides through the streets of his destinations in the Popemobile. Although these seem like throwaway shots at first, they are indicative of the message of the film — perhaps even more so than the speeches themselves.
The one thing that the movie does succeed at doing is giving the viewer an ample amount of respect for Pope Francis. Even though the film doesn’t offer a particularly deep glance into his life or work, it’s easy to see the commitment he has to his followers through these speeches he delivers and the love he shows for them.
In Viaggio: The Travels of Pope Francis is ultimately disappointing considering that it is made by a filmmaker who has the talent to make so much more than this. Although it’s hardly a bad film — and it has good intentions — there is frustratingly little to it.
In Viaggio: The Travels of Pope Francis is now in theaters and on VOD.