Pope Francis apparently does not watch a lot of newly-released movies. Last fall, he told the Jesuit America Magazine that his favorite flicks were Federico Fellini’s 1954 film La Strada and Roberto Rossellini’s 1945 film Rome: Open City. He also said he liked anything that starred Italian legend Anna Magnani, who was born in 1908. Given that, one might find the pontiff’s movie acumen just a little bit dated. Perhaps there just hasn’t been a movie since then worth seeing. Or, more likely, as leader of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics, the pope probably doesn’t have a lot of free time on his hands, what with fixing the church’s complex problems and generally making headlines with good deeds.
As such, it is fairly unlikely that the pope will break his habit and succumb to the pressure being applied by megastar Russell Crowe, whom the Italian press has accused of “stalking” the pontiff about his upcoming Bible-inspired movie, Noah, which will be released in Italy on April 10. Crowe has allegeldy even offered to arrange a private screening just for Francis, but so far the Vatican is not biting.
Crowe started his campaign—or , perhaps, his pilgrimage—to get the pope to watch his movie with a tweet to the Holy Father at the papal Twitter handles @pontifex and @pontifex_it: “#Noah film Screening? The message of the film is powerful, fascinating, resonant.” He then followed up with another tweet: “Dear Holy Father @pntifex, Sorry that I have caused havoc in your social media world. Seriously though, #Noah the movie will fascinate you.”
And then another “Holy Father @pontifex, it would be my deepest pleasure to bring the @darrenAronofsky film to you to screen. That this may happen Inshallah.” The tweets also went to Crowe’s 1.4 million followers, who have been avidly retweeting them, meaning the Holy Father would perhaps be justified in blocking Crowe as spam by now.
Crowe also followed up by retweeting a photo by @prodigalfan, who has just a mere 87 followers, of a shot of the Via della Conciliazione leading up to St. Peter’s square in Rome with a maxi-poster advertising the film. The Italian distributors paid a bundle for the billboard placement so close to Vatican City, but sadly for Crowe, it is unlikely the Pope has actually seen the giant advert since the papal entrance is around the back. They would have had better luck with a normal poster on the side street behind the square.
Vatican sources are not automatically opposed to Biblical-themed films or those on Catholic stories, but the film has already been banned in three Middle Eastern countries on “religious grounds”.
The pope was also asked to screen the film Philomena, based on a true story about how more than 60,000 unwed Irish Catholic mothers were forced to give up their babies for adoption in first half of the last century. The pope reportedly did not see the film, but he did meet the real Philomena Lee, on whose life the film was based, at an audience in Rome.
It remains unclear whether the popular pontiff would entertain meeting the Gladiator star under similar circumstances, but the Vatican is clearly wary of anyone who wants to harness the pope’s popularity for private means. “The Vatican is very cautious about allowing the Pope to be used or manipulated by commercial agencies, film producers or critics, music companies, books or magazine publishers for their own promotional or marketing purposes,” Father Thomas Rosica, spokesperson for the Holy See Press Office and CEO of Salt and Light Media Foundation of Canada, told The Daily Beast. “Though Pope Francis or any of his predecessors or successors may very well have been, are or will be highly intelligent, cultured men who have their eyes opened on the world, and watch movies, listen to music, read specific books, newspapers or magazines, it is wrong to manipulate the Pope into a marketing strategy to sell a product.”
Rosica says that the Pope’s primary mission is to instead “be a witness to the Gospel” and he should not be used to hawk movies. “That he may choose to speak about a film, book or piece of music in the context of his teaching or witnessing is one thing,” Rosica told The Daily Beast. “That commercial marketing strategies desire to use the Pope for their own purposes is another thing.”
To be fair, there has been very little in the last year that this pope has done that hasn’t surprised, amazed and caught people off guard. And who knows, maybe the next surprise headline will be the pope munching popcorn and enjoying Russell Crowe as an Old Testament patriarch at a private Vatican screening. Stranger things have certainly happened with Pope Francis.