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Sunday 16 June 2019

Film is testament to Pope's quiet charisma

Holy man on a mission: Pope Francis comes across as sincere in A Man of His
Word. Picture: Getty
Holy man on a mission: Pope Francis comes across as sincere in A Man of His Word. Picture: Getty
Paul Whitington

Paul Whitington

Pope Francis will be everywhere you look in a few weeks, including your local cinema. Wim Wenders' documentary A Man of His Word is built around five hours of interviews the German filmmaker conducted with the 266th Pontiff who, it must be agreed, has rather a lot on his plate.

While he might not seem so to his detractors, Francis is a quiet radical, a believer in the poor church principle who has rejected much of the glitz and showiness of the papacy in favour of a simpler style that reflects Christ's core teachings.

He's a big fan of St Francis of Assisi, whose example may have inspired his surprising outspokenness on climate change. Jorge Bergoglio is a plain-spoken, humble man, but not without a certain quiet charisma, and as he talks Wenders through the aims and issues of his papacy, his sincerity is evident. And while this film is not as critical as it might have been, it does at least give you some idea of who Pope Francis is.

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Based on the novels of Alexandra Bracken, The Darkest Minds has arrived a little late at the dystopian teen sci-fi party launched by The Hunger Games way back in 2012. Since then we've watched teenagers with special powers battle adult authoritarianism in Divergent, The Maze Runner and The Host, and nothing very new is added to this weary formula in Darkest Minds.

A terrible virus has wiped out 99pc of American children under the age of 13, and the survivors are herded into camps when it emerges they have developed terrifying mental powers. Some, the 'greens', are telekinetic and can lift objects with their minds: others, the 'oranges' and 'reds' have more worrying destructive capabilities. Ruby Daly (Amandla Stenberg) is one such, and when a kindly doctor (Mandy Moore) helps her escape from a camp, she falls in with a group of similarly gifted escapees who are determined to live free.

Adults suck, only teens are truly pure, and these colour-coded categories are metaphors for their pubescent moods. It's all a bit samey, to tell you the truth, and The Darkest Minds moves too slowly and is too concerned with romance at the expense of action.

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Part historical exploration, part memoir, Donal Foreman's documentary The Image You Missed uses letters and archive footage to reconstruct the life and work of his father, Arthur MacCaig. Born in New Jersey, MacCaig came to Ireland in the 1970s to imbibe the land of his forbears, and became fascinated by the rising conflict in the North. He also fell in love, and his son Donal was born in Dublin in 1985.

MacCaig, by this stage, was based in Paris and sent affectionate letters to Donal's mother asking about "the baba" and promising to visit soon. He rarely did, and for young Donal, his father would remain a shadowy, absent figure.

Meanwhile, Arthur MacCaig was regularly visiting west Belfast, making nicely shot, but hopelessly partisan, films about the Troubles. MacCaig's grasp of Irish history and current affairs was feeble, and he was about as rigorous a documentarian as he was a parent. He had a good eye, though, and Donal's slight but interesting film is full of snatched, haunting images, and an undercurrent of regret.

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And finally, a brief word about Unfriended: Dark Web, a sequel to a winningly ingenious 2014 thriller. In this film, like its predecessor, the action takes place entirely within the confines of a laptop computer screen and unfolds in real time, as a group of mildly obnoxious young friends are having a lighthearted Skype chat when they realise something is wrong.

A stolen computer contains a portal to the dark web, where money is being used to purchase murder victims. Unfriended was great, but this is a nasty, mean-spirited, production, a film I wish I could unsee.

Pope Francis: A Man of his Word

(PG, 96mins)


The Darkest Minds

(12A, 104mins)


The Image You Missed

(No Cert, IFI, 74mins)


Unfriended: Dark Web

(15A, 93mins)


Irish Independent

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