THE POPE / FERNANDO MEIRELLES – DAY 1 / THE BOEING TOOK OFF
The Pope - Fernando Meirelles, Home
“Despite months of preparations, location scouting, and rehearsals with the actors on the set, despite all of this, the first day of filming is always tense. The first scene to be filmed is not of great dramatic importance to the screenplay. It’s just a 5 second image of the girlfriend of the future pope, the young Jorge Bergoglio, getting dressed in front of one of those old three panel dressing room mirrors. She thought she was going to receive his proposal that night, so she was nervous as I am today.
It should have been a simple shot, but to Cesar Charlone, who was operating the camera, it would be impossible not to play with the triple image in the mirrors. In addition, he said he’d project an image of the Sistine Chapel onto the girl’s dress. To 98% of the audience the image will appear to be shadows of trees seen through the window, but maybe 2% will perceive that the image is Michelangelo’s Pietá. So what would have been a simple close-up turned into an interesting somewhat abstract image. The first lesson of the day: never underestimate an opportunity to invent, as simple as the scene may be. With this spirit in mind, the Boeing took off.
In 1977 Bergoglio went to the home of Esther, a close friend of his, to take all compromising books from her house because he knew she was being watched by the military. What most bothered Esther was not that she was being observed, but rather how Bergoglio got a hold of this information. She, like many Argentineans, believed that the then head of the Jesuits in Argentina and Uruguay was much closer to the military than he should have been. A regime that killed 30 thousand people didn’t deserve any form of tolerance. And here we should offer a parenthesis to understand the situation that Bergoglio found himself in at the time.
(In 1976, when the military leaders deposed Isabelita Peron and formed a junta dedicated to a “National Reorganization,” the church officially supported them, but many padres and friars began to die, accused of collaborating with the guerillas. During this period the church entered a crisis, with the loyal faithful on one side, and on the other, thousands of padres who abandoned their robes. It was with these threats from inside and outside the Jesuit order that the young Bergoglio assumed his post. His mission as the provincial leader of Argentina and Uruguay was to keep the Jesuits cohesive and alive, avoiding the dissolution of the order, not at all an easy task for the youngest provincial leader of the order in the world. What did he do to deal with the pressure? He planned a tactical retreat. Like a coach who calls time and calls the team around to talk in a corner of the field, Bergoglio asked, or rather ordered, because it was authoritarian, that Jesuits leave their missions in poor communities and return to their bases. To avoid conflicts he never spoke against the military leadership and with this no Jesuit was killed. Many understood this silence as an endorsement of the regime. Because of his silence, the Pope is still a controversial figure in Argentina.)
But returning to the film: In the dialogue that was to be filmed, Esther backed up Bergoglio against the wall and demanded to know where he stood. In rehearsing the scene, we asked the actors to improvise outside of the text so that we’d have a better understanding of the context of what was being said. Juan Menujin, who’s playing the young Bergoglio, is a very focused actor and did a lot of research for his role. Maria Ucedo, who plays Esther, also had done her homework. The improvisation was so good that, even though it lengthened the scene, we decided to film all the addendums that they used. Lots of freedom. Since this scene is a flashback and will be told by Bergoglio years later, it can be edited in a more fragmented fashion, which is the same way our memory works. Using this excuse, we put the script aside and filmed in a more freeform manner. After spending months going over ever word and comma in the dialogue with Netflix, in the first scene around 40% of what was said and done wasn’t planned.
Today I saw the first cut in which the editor Fernando Stutz intercut fragments of dialogue with archive material from that period. It worked very well. This positive result has stimulated me to begin filming more than the contents of the text, counting on less linear editing, at least for the flashbacks in Argentina. What will happen later in Rome with Pryce and Hopkins is another story. We’ll get there. I really like rigorous films in which each frame and lens is thought out a priori, but once again I realize that I can’t do this as much as I have planned. Even more so with Cesar Charlone handling the photography and Stutz doing the editing. The sheet music is good; it’s good to follow it, but when the time comes, it’s jazz.”