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THE POPE / FERNANDO MEIRELLES – DAY 3 / AN ANTIDOTE FOR TAKING ON AIRS

11.12.2017

When democracy returned to Argentina, Jorge Bergoglio was sent to the province of Córdoba as a kind of punishment for his errors during the dictatorship. These were times of penitence for the ex-leader of the order. Isolated, he couldn’t talk with other priests and was prohibited from saying mass. Besides taking care of elderly priests in the infirmary and studying, the only thing that remained to be done was hear confessions.

The screenplay synthesizes these years in one of those sequences that appears in films that try to summarize a long period of time in a few scenes. We see him on the bus to Córdoba, washing dishes, giving baths to elderly priests, walking by himself through the mountains, reading Helder Câmara, praying, and hearing confessions, these types of things.

The short scene of the confessions should have had a few images of extras sitting in front of the window of his room, from where he listened to them, followed by a reverse angle of Bergoglio. In order for the extras not to remain silent, I asked them to improvise any kind of confession. I asked them to come closer because they couldn’t hear anything, since the music was taking center stage. But once he found out there would be some speaking, even knowing that it wouldn’t be used, our sound man Stuart Wilson insisted on placing microphones on everyone. Stuart has 4 Oscar nominations and knows what he’s doing. Why argue with him? I let him go ahead.

We filmed without rehearsing so that it would appear more natural. A young woman sat down and confessed that she regularly lied to her grandmother, telling her that she was with her cousin when in fact she was with her boyfriend. One older man had argued with a relative, the relative had died and now he was feeling remorse. Another was suffering because he couldn’t stop cheating on his wife. He suffered because she trusted him. A woman felt the urge to kill her mother-in-law. She confirmed that what she had confessed in front of the camera was true. These extras must have confessed regularly, because they knew how to confess in a very realistic manner. Actors and professional screenwriters would have had trouble doing better.

Intrigued by hearing these people opening their hearts, I asked Father Otávio, our consultant on church subjects, to also give us an idea for the confession of a young extra who was playing a priest who happened to be passing by. He suggested to him that he say he had impure thoughts and that he masturbated very often. This apparently is a frequent sin among seminarians and young priests. I found Father Otavio’s idea interesting and courageous and filmed it.

And that’s when the penny dropped. In all of the confessions, what made the confessors suffer was guilt. It had never been so clear to me the perception that each individual is his or her own most severe critic. It hurts to face yourself.

But I’ve written all this just to comment that hearing these confessions made me rethink my criticism of the Catholic Church for hammering away at the idea of sin and making their devotees go to confession. Guilt has been used to create every type of repression and domination over the course of history. I know this, but on the other hand, in listening to them, it occurred to me that regular confession can be a great exercise in maintaining one’s psychic health in these times full of conceit and fundamentalism.

It’s not just in Brazil where discourses full of hate and intolerance win votes. “ I’m right and you’re an idiot.”  This is the current state of the world’s spirit. From the United States to the Islamic State. No one feels bad in being a “hater.” And this is where confession can help. Thinking about one’s own faults regularly by telling them to someone can act as an antidote to conceit. Having to recognize regularly that we’re flawed makes us brothers of the idiots. A brotherhood of idiots.

The fact is that confession, protected by the limited visibility of a screen, isn’t distant like a couch. Both sessions, therapy and confession, analyze the patient through his or her own lenses, even if they’re dogmas like Freud, but this doesn’t matter. The fact that we’re forced to look inside ourselves and externalize what we’ve seen is what makes the experience worth it.

Have I gotten off track?

Returning to the set: On the other side of the window Juan Menujin, the actor who’s playing the younger Bergoglio, even though he was surprised by the confessions, offered responses as if he were analyzing the screenwriter. This is the difference between an actor that knows his lines well and one that knows his character well. The scene turned out beautifully. Now I just have to figure out how to insert this in a sequence which should be about Bergoglio’s silence, without this becoming a digression. This is a problem for Stutz our editor. He makes connections with the same facility that I change shirts. He’ll figure out a way to do it.

Sometimes I think of going back to therapy, but now, thinking of confession, I find myself hesitating. The psychologist’s office or confession? Without a doubt confession seems to offer a few advantages. It isn’t elitist. You don’t have to schedule an appointment. Just like Lacanian therapy, it respects the timing of the confessor, and it’s even free.

That’s it. I’m thinking seriously of finding myself a confessor. Really. I’ll certainly have plenty to talk about.