Wim Wenders at L'Adresse: "Cinema is a very communal place. And community that's in many ways what Pope Francis is preaching." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
During lunch at L'Adresse across the street from Bryant Park in New York the day after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences screening and reception of Pope Francis: A Man Of His Word at The Whitby Hotel, Wim Wenders told me about his collaboration with cinematographer Lisa Rinzler (Lisbon Story, Soul Of A Man) and sound engineer Régis Muller (Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado's documentary The Salt Of The Earth) when they were filming an interview with Pope Francis in the Vatican Gardens.
Wim Wenders on filming Pope Francis in the Vatican Gardens: "We chose this quiet beautiful little spot because of its peacefulness. And all of a sudden this flock of parrots appeared and they made a hell of a noise."
Wim had just visited The Met Cloisters, part of The Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute exhibition Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination, and in our conversation he speaks about the symbols and metaphors of Catholicism. He comments on Jeannette, The Childhood Of Joan Of Arc director Bruno Dumont's declaration that "cinema is a place of belief", references Saint Francis of Assisi's preaching to birds sermon, talks about the church in the Middle Ages, and believes that the "language of community today is highly political."
"If we can all become a bit poorer" Pope Francis suggests in the documentary, the world could become a better place. He diagnoses wealth as a security blanket while we see him visit a favela in Rio de Janeiro and speak in a suburb of Naples about the 40% unemployment rate for the young. Things have to change, "work is the most noble thing we have." And then there is the importance of play. "Do you play with your children?" he inquires of families - a very serious question.
The insightful and intimate interviews Wim Wenders conducted with the Pope are interspersed with footage of his extensive travels that show the meaning of his words. He washes the tattooed feet of a US prisoner and caresses the head of a deadly sick child in an African hospital. In the Philippines, right after the typhoon, we see him in the mist, wearing the same transparent yellow rain poncho as everybody else in the crowd.
Pope Francis washes and kisses the foot of an inmate: "I realised that he does it often and he wants it to be understood by everybody that nobody is above becoming so humble to wash somebody else's feet."
During the interview conducted with the Pope outside, with trees in the background, you can hear the very distinct sound of one bird, lovely and bright and clear, as if it were commenting on his words.
Anne-Katrin Titze: I want to tell you that the closest link between the Pope and Saint Francis I sensed while watching the film, was not in the scenes you shot with the old camera. It was in the bird. There's one little bird interrupting the Pope during the interviews you did outside with him in the garden.
Wim Wenders: Yeah, it's a parrot.
AKT: It's a parrot? It's fantastic.
WW: They have in these trees.
AKT: It's the Vatican Gardens?
WW: It's the Vatican Gardens and these parrots showed up out of nowhere. Because we chose this quiet beautiful little spot because of its peacefulness. And all of a sudden this flock of parrots appeared and they made a hell of a noise.
AKT: Which colour?
Wim Wenders on Pope Francis: "That we should be a community of brothers and sisters again and not of competitors."
WW: All kinds. Yellow, but very colourful. A whole flock of them. We couldn't scare them away. In reality they're sounding much much louder because we used sort of directional microphones with the Pope. We couldn't put any microphone on him.
It was so bad, when they started this raucous, I ran over to the sound engineer [Régis Muller] and said "Can we still shoot?" He said "Yeah, it's not so bad as you hear it in reality." It was really loud.
AKT: It's wonderful because that is Saint Francis communicating with the animals!
WW: It was a little concert given by brother bird. Brothers and sisters birds.
AKT: I thought it was his spirit talking to his namesake, telling him "You're on the right track." Your cinematographer Lisa Rinzler shot the Saint Francis footage?
WW: We shot most of our interviews and the Saint Francis footage. With Lisa we did Lisbon Story before and Soul Of A Man.
House of Balenciaga gown in the Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination at The Met Cloisters Langon Chapel Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
AKT: You show the Pope washing the tattooed feet of a prisoner. I understood something about the concept of foot washing that I didn't understand before, about humility. It's more than words.
WW: It's a symbol, a metaphor to wash somebody's feet. I mean, I first read that the Pope already in Lampedusa was washing the feet of refugees. I was moved when I read it and then I realised that he does it often and he wants it to be understood by everybody that nobody is above becoming so humble to wash somebody else's feet.
AKT: Humility is what we need. The more powerful you are, the more you need to be humble. Did you see the Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination exhibit at The Met?
WW: I was at The [Met] Cloisters and saw the exhibition.
AKT: What did you think?
WW: Well, it shows an incredibly rich church and it's actually much the opposite of what Pope Francis is talking about.
Paul Auster with Wim Wenders at The Whitby Hotel reception for Pope Francis: A Man of His Word Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
WW: I remember, it wasn't confirmed, I cannot say it is confirmed, but on the very first hour when he was elected, they started to put all these clothes on him. And were about to put on these shoes and stuff. And he rejected most of it and said "The carnival is over!"
AKT: He definitely rejected the red shoes.
WW: Yes. I was reminded of that line when I saw the exhibit.
AKT: I think it is also about that. I think Andrew Bolton is clever and highly aware to use that discrepancy. It's also the right moment for that exhibition. Yes it is beautiful but is it the role of the church we need in the present? Shouldn't the exquisite garments rather be in a fashion exhibit and that's where they really belong, in a museum?
WW: It is a fashion exhibit. It's also from a different era. If you think of the Middle Ages you think of all these fantastic churches they're building, these fantastic cathedrals. In terms of architecture there was the same like these costumes. The church did produce some incredible art and monuments. And these cathedrals were for people a symbol of an aspiration towards God.
Today banks have the same and are the only buildings that go up to the sky. At the time I think when the church built these cathedrals, all these wardrobes and all these precious costumes were part of that metaphor. And probably in the Middle Ages it was understood but today not anymore.
AKT: Bruno Dumont said to me when we talked about his Joan of Arc film that the place for religion today is in cinema. That's where you can show saints.
Wim Wenders on the move in New York Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
WW: It's also a communal place. Maybe that's what he meant. Cinema is a very communal place. And community that's in many ways what Pope Francis is preaching. That we should be a community of brothers and sisters again and not of competitors. But that language of community today is highly political.
AKT: Oh, yes. You said you were ecumenical, both Catholic and Protestant? Meaning one parent each?
WW: No, both parents were Catholics. My wife [Donata] is Protestant and I converted to Protestantism. And now I realise my Catholic upbringing and my Catholic heart is just still as alive but I also know why I like Protestantism and I try to combine the best of the two.
Read what Wim Wenders had to say on his first meeting for Pope Francis: A Man of His Word and Patti Smith's premonition and song for the film.
Pope Francis: A Man Of His Word opened on 346 screens across the US on May 18.