The historic visit of Pope Francis to the United States is creating ripples throughout the world — including in the film culture.
Due to the unprecedented security mobilization for his two-day stop in Manhattan, the New York Film Festival made the decision to bump its opening night gala, traditionally held on Friday, to Saturday this year. “After talking to everybody and realizing how crazy it’s going to be to get around the city, it seemed like a no-brainer,” says Kent Jones, programming director for the festival. “What’s interesting, though, is that this is a pope who seems like he might enjoy coming to see a couple movies.”
His love of movies is something Pope Francis has spoken about. And the Prince Theatre in Philadelphia is hosting a mini-festival from Sept. 22-24, focusing on three films for which Francis has expressed affection. (He will land in Philly on Sept. 26 before flying back to Rome the following day.)
“We like to key into cultural events that are already happening and obviously the pope’s visit this is the biggest thing happening to Philadelphia this year,” says Allison Koehler, programs director at the Philadelphia Film Society.
“I don’t know that general public has been that interested in the pope’s cultural opinions before,” she says, “but in interviews he has turned the conversation towards the arts. And in these three films that we are showing, what’s evident is the realism and the focus on the working class and the human condition. There’s an emphasis on community despite difference, and compassion for all of the characters in these films.”
Here are the three Francis-endorsed films that will be shown in Philadelphia, in addition to a new 3-D documentary called The Vatican Museums, which can be watched as the first part of a double feature to any of the three films.
Rome, Open City, 1945
In 2013, Francis spoke to Rome’s La Repubblica newspaper and expressed his deep feelings for Roberto Rossellini’s realist war drama, which is a ground-zero account of the city under Nazi siege — and which features a Catholic priest as its main character. “I don’t want to speak for the Pope’s distinguished opinion,” says Koehler, “but I think he responded to the film’s message, especially since his father fled Italy because of fascism. The movie is an act of resistance, made against all odds.”
La Strada, 1954
The Buenos Aires-born pope’s Italian heritage also drew him to the films of Federico Fellini, such as this delicate wonder, winner of the first-ever Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. Anthony Quinn plays a circus strongman who falls for an innocent beauty (Giulietta Masina) and feuds with a gentle clown (Richard Basehart). “Fellini loved juxtapositions in the visuals, like between sky and land, heaven and earth,” says Koehler. “La Strada is about a man who looks really strong, but is actually a stricken person struggling to make tough decisions.”
Babette’s Feast, 1987
In a 2010 interview, three years before he was elected pope, Francis lauded director Gabriel Axel’s Oscar-winning fable as his favorite movie of all time. The story is about two unmarried Protestant sisters in Denmark who welcome a Parisian girl into their home as their housekeeper and cook. And cook she does, serving up an eight-course meal that cuts through the whole village’s puritanical starch. “The film challenges religious stereotypes in a very interesting way,” says Koehler. “And it explores the idea of alternative richness through community and self-sacrifice.”
For tickets to the Prince Theatre, head here. All three movies are also currently available via Hulu.