Recently it’s been revealed that Pope Francis is a classic film fan.
(He is also perhaps the first pontiff in history to have once worked as a nightclub bouncer before beginning seminary studies. But that’s another blog.)
The Pope was born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in late 1936 in Buenos Aires. His parents — both Italian immigrants — took him to the cinema often when he was growing up, and according to him, made sure he saw all the films of Anna Magnani (pictured above) and Aldo Fabrizi, Italian stars of the 1940s and 50s. His parents had excellent taste.
Magnani and Fabrizi are the co stars of Roberto Rossellini’s classic Rome, Open City (Roma, Citta Aperta), Rosselini’s neorealist masterpiece shot in 1945 in the streets of war ravaged Rome. Magnani is terrific as a widow, impregnated by a next door neighbor, who rises with great courage in the face of the extraordinary depredations inflicted by Nazi occupation.
Fabrizi plays a stalwart Catholic priest executed in shocking fashion for his political beliefs. His role is as central to the picture as was Magnani’s, and both deliver unforgettable performances.
However, the pontiff has said that La Strada, by Federico Fellini, is “the movie that perhaps I loved the most. I identify with this movie, in which there is an implicit reference to St. Francis.” (Pictured below are the picture’s three stars: Giulietta Masina at far left, Richard Basehart at center right, and Anthony Quinn, right.)
La Strada (The Street) is the story of a poor waif (Masina) sold by her mother to a circus strongman (Quinn) who abuses her while exploiting her as part of his traveling act. The film is the story of the strongman’s route to eventual redemption and love.
The first movie to win a foreign language Oscar, La Strada has merit, certainly, but comes across on the sentimental side today. That may be largely due to Masina’s hard-to-swallow mimetic performance (she was Fellini’s wife). With all respect to the Holy Father, we much prefer Open City.
Here we wholeheartedly agree with Pope Francis. The film has become a foodie favorite ever since its release in 1987. Babette, a French refugee taken in by two 19th century Danish spinsters, is played by the excellent French actress, Stephane Audran (above). She masterminds the preparation of a mind-boggling meal in honor of the 100 anniversary of the father of the two spinsters. (Caution: don’t see this movie if hungry.)
Well we as much as the Pope are allowed more than one favorite, aren’t we?