Review: Stories of a Generation with Pope Francis

I dream of a Missionary Church, Pope Francis tells us, so perhaps it’s unsurprising to find him dropping a four part documentary series on Netfiix among the unchartered wills of the world’s largest streaming service.

Based on the Pope’s 2018 book ‘Sharing the Wisdom of Time,’ published by Loyola Press, the program showcases stories from people over 70 from all quarters of the globe, including the Holy Father himself, as they impart their life experiences to youthful filmmakers. Each of its four hourlong episodes is devoted to a central theme: “Love,” “Dreams,” “Struggle” and “Work.”

There are a few famous names in the lineup, such as Martin Scorsese and Jane Goodall. But most of those who appear on screen, under the overall direction of Simona Ercolani, have never lived in the limelight.

Simona Ercolani, director and producer of the series, has said the making of it ‘became urgent because every day we had a bulletin of deaths. We spoke with Netfiix, which also felt the urgency of collecting the stories of people, who at that moment were more fragile. They liked this idea of a dialogue between generations — filmmakers under 30 and contributors over 70.’

It’s clear this expedition hasn’t come cheap. It looks absolutely beautiful, in a way that occasionally seems a little slick, like an expensive car advert, though the power of the stories featured makes that comparison seem unfair.

For example we’re introduced to Estela Barnes de Carlotto, a 90-year- old woman from Argentina who spent decades looking for her grandson after her daughter was killed during the unrest of the 1970s in that country. And then recently, Vito Forino, 72, went for a sail from his home in Lampedusa, Italy, in 2013 and ended up rescuing 47 people from a sinking refugee ship. They are humble, but they are remarkable, and even a cynic couldn’t fail to be moved by the goodness they show.

This is particularly clear in the section with Martin Scorsese, who at 79 is wincingly self critical telling his youngest daughter that ‘I would have liked to help raise my other daughters,’ acknowledging that his film career often took precedence over his family life.

He is also shown being incredibly tender to his current wife, Helen Morris who has Parkinson’s disease.

The Pope, whose interjections, pepper the show, remarks that when he met him, he was deeply struck that he ‘has no defences between himself and his wife’s disease’.

The Pope’s contributions make you think he must have been a wonderful parish priest. He chuckles through his interview, caring deeply but lightly and throwing little pieces of wisdom that I turned over for days afterwards.

The show itself wears its Catholicism very lightly. It’s clearly aimed at an audience beyond Catholics, and is missionary in that sense.

I was surprised at how moving I found it. There are stories here that deserve to be told as widely as possible. The wisdom of a generation does point towards a deeply moral and hopeful universe.

For all that I’m not sure if it will really bridge that generational gap the pope talks about. Released on Christmas Day, it hasn’t made much of a splash and whether or not glossy hour long documentary is going to entice many young non-Catholics I doubt. Yet, on its own terms, it succeeds, and watching it will likely be a moving and hopeful experience.

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