The Two Popes: film and series locations with the Popes

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The Two Popes: between Italy and Argentina

After The Irishman on November 27th, Netflix continues its big budget productions with The Two Popes. After Al Pacino and Robert De Niro for Martin Scorsese’s film, the audience discovered Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce in cassock.

Fernando Meirelles stages this duel at the summit between the two popes still alive today. This is a very rare fact in the history of the Catholic Church – apart from the Great Schism between East and West – and it could not escape a story in the cinema.

The Brazilian director summons Pope Benedict XVI (Anthony Hopkins) and François (Jonathan Pryce) for colourful verbal jousting. The film begins in 2012, when the latter asks the former for permission to withdraw. The Vatican walls are shaking and power struggles are taking place. Traditionalists close to Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger are struggling to push back progressives close to Jorge Mario Bergoglio. His election on March 13, 2013, was a landmark for Catholics. A reformer, he wants to put an end to the Curia having too much power. But once again, Benedict XVI’s relatives are not to be fooled.

Based on the play The Pope, the director skillfully blends the back and forth in the past of the two protagonists. Thus, scenes were shot in Argentina, following in the footsteps of the young Bergoglio (Juan Minujin), particularly in Buenos Aires, the capital. As a child from the working class district of Flores, it was in the church of San José that Jorge had his revelation at the age of 17.

Castel Gandolfo and the Vatican as main characters. As shown in the trailer of The Two Popes, the Vatican and Castel Gandolfo serve as grand sets for the feature film.

Vatican (Città del Vaticano – 00120 Vatican City)

Thus, Pope Francis is many times in the Episcopal City, the smallest state in the world with its 0.439 km2 and its 799 inhabitants. The Supreme Pontiff is the spiritual head of the Roman Catholic Church but also head of state.

He also becomes aware of his heavy load and the whirlwind in which he is carried into the Sistine Chapel. This is one of the halls of the papal palaces. Built on the will of Sixtus IV between 1477 and 1483, it is composed of priceless artistic treasures. Thus, behind Francis, we discover the majestic fresco The Last Judgement of Michelangelo dating from 1541.

The esplanade of Place Saint-Pierre is also visible several times in the film, including scenes of jubilant crowds cheering the new Francis.

Papal Residence (Città del Vaticano Residenza Estiva del Santo Padre)

45 km southeast of the Vatican is the summer residence of the popes. Not far from Pavona, it stands high up near Lake Alabano. The Palace of Castel Gandolfo has served as a summer retreat for sovereign pontiffs since Urban VIII (1623-1644).

Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins take a look at the gardens of this beautiful 17th century building. Since his renunciation on February 28, 2013, Benedict XVI has made it his principal residence. In fact, he said: “Castel Gandolfo is my second home”. His successor has decided to open these so-called “Italian-style” green spaces to the public since 2014. Visitors can admire the Barberini Garden, the Belvedere Gardens and the ruins of the Imperial Palace of Emperor Domitian.

In addition to The Two Popes, the popes, their secrets and also the Vatican have often served as the backdrop for important works of the 7th Art.

From St. Peter’s Shoes to Habemus Papam, Popes at the movies

The shoes of St. Peter, Godfather III, Habumus Papam, Stigmata or Amen, all had as their scenario, the intrigues of the palace.

The Shoes of St. Peter (Michael Anderson – 1968)

While most of the scenes in this film were shot in the famous Cinecitta studios (Via Tuscolana, 1055, 00173 Roma RM, Italy), the meeting between Pope Kiril (Anthony Quinn) and Chinese President Ping (Burt Kwouk) was shot at the PalaLottomatica. This sports arena in the Italian capital was built in 1956. These are the interior bays used for the maintenance of the two leaders.

Godfather III (Francis Ford Coppola – 1990)

If there’s one saga that mixes religion and the mafia, it’s The Godfather. In the third opus, in particular, there are links between Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) and the Holy See. For example, Archbishop Gilday (Donal Donnelly), the head of the Vatican Bank, has accumulated an astronomical amount of deficit. The Godfather wipes out almost all the debt by offering no less than $600 million. Scenes had to be shot in the small episcopal state. But to do this, Francis Ford Coppola and his teams set up their cameras not in the Sistine Chapel but in Palazzo Farnese (Piazza Farnese, 67, 00100 Roma RM, Italy), the headquarters of the French Embassy in Italy. Built between 1515 and 1549, this magnificent Renaissance-style building also houses a loggia designed by Michelangelo and the two places are very similar.

Stigmata (Rupert Wainwright – 1999)

If the streets of Rome were used as sets for this feature film, for the scenes in the Vatican, the production preferred the Palace of Fines Arts in San Francisco (3301 Lyon Street). Inspired by classical Greek and Roman architecture, this building was constructed in 1915. With its eucalyptus garden and its animals, it is a popular place for couples to take their wedding photos. In this film, Frankie Paige (Patricia Arquette) is struck by the stigmata of Jesus Christ. When it came out, the Catholic Church reacted negatively and denounced it as The Da Vinci Code later on.

Amen (Costa-Gavras – 2002)

Since it’s not easy to get permission to film inside the Vatican, Costa Gavras had to choose Romania for this. Cheaper in production, this Eastern European country often hosts film productions.

Thus, the exterior scenes were filmed at the Mogosoaia Palace (Strada Valea Parcului 1, Mogoșoaia), a building of the nobility whose construction was completed in 1702. Today it belongs to the Romanian state. As for the interior sequences, they were shot at the Parliament Palace in Bucharest (Strada Izvor 2-4, București) where both chambers, deputies and senators, sit. This sorreal-style building is the largest stone building and the second largest administrative building in the world behind the Pentagon.

The Amen poster by Oliviero Toscani – famous for the Benetton campaigns – created a stir in the Catholic community. It represented the intermingling of the Christian cross and the swastika. The film depicted the wait-and-see attitude of Pius XII during the Second World War and more specifically the Holocaust. A lawsuit was filed against the visual of the poster but the assignees were dismissed.

Habemus Papam (Nanni Moretti – 2011)

After La chambre du fils, Palme d’or at Cannes in 2001 and Le Caïman contant l’ascension de Silvio Berlusconi in 2006, Nanni Moretti decided to stage the election of a pope in 2001. While none of the favourites manage to break away, it is Cardinal Melville who is crowned. This new sovereign pontiff detonates in the Catholic world: he goes out in secret and undergoes a psychological analysis with a caretaker; played by the director himself. Close to the poor, it prefigures the future Pope Francis. That’s Moretti’s genius: a near prophecy. As for Michel Piccoli, the main character, it is undoubtedly one of his best last roles. Born in 1925, the actor has become rarer since then. The name Melville is a tribute to Jean-Pierre, the French director of L’armée des ombres (1969).

In addition to the Cinecitta, a cinema complex created in 1937, the scenes in the Vatican were shot in Palazzo Farnese, like Godfather III. Les Cahiers du Cinéma ranked Habemus Papam, best film 2001.

The Catholic Church in the series

The Young Pope (Paolo Sorrentino – 2016 to 2020)

If the cinema has often used the Vatican arcana for its plots, the same has been true for the last few years in television series. For example, the teams of The Young Pope (HBO, Canal+, Sky Atlantic – 2016) moved to Piazza San Marco in Venice or filmed scenes of crowds in St. Peter’s Square of the Episcopal State.

The Borgias (Tom Fontana – 2011 to 2014)

Les Borgia (Canal+, 3 seasons from 2011 to 2014), featuring the accession to power of the future Pope Alexander VI (John Doman), was not filmed in the Vatican but in the Barrandov studios in Prague and in Hungary (Komarom, Sopron, Tata or Alcsut).

So be it (David Elkaïm, Bruno Nahon, Vincent Poymiro and Rodolphe Tissot – 2012 to 2015)

Closer to home, Ainsi soi soi soi tells the story of five young men entering the seminary. The series has three seasons and was broadcast on Arte between 2012 and 2015. Several filming locations in France were used. Thus, as we mention in our guide Paris des 10000 lieux cultes de films, series, music, comics, novels, the Palais d’Iéna (1 avenue d’Iéna, Paris 16) was used as a setting to represent the Parisian headquarters of the Episcopal Conference of France where we find the jousts between its leader, Monsignor Joseph Roman (Michel Duchaussoy) and Father Etienne Fromenger (Jean-Luc Bideau), director of the seminary. This building was created on the occasion of the 1937 Universal Exhibition by the famous architect Auguste Perret. As for the salons of the City Hall in Paris (Esplanade de la Libération, Rue de Rivoli), they serve as decorations for those of the Vatican.

For the Capuchin seminar, several filming locations were used. The entrance is that of the liberal Bruant hotel in Paris (1 rue de la perle – Paris 3) dating from 1685 and classified as a Historic Monument. Its cloister is that of the former abbey of Saint-Maixent (Quartier Canclaux) and its chapel, the church Notre-Dame-de-Cougnes in La Rochelle (57 Rue Alcide d’Orbigny).

The 7th art loves palace intrigues, so the Catholic Church and the Vatican were often used to imagine beautiful stories. The Popes do not escape it either through power struggles within the Curia. Pope Francis even made his screen debut in his own role in Beyond the Sun, a film by Graciela Rodriguez in 2017.

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By Anthony Thibault

Friday, January 10, 2020

From the "Casimir generation", Anthony has kept (in addition to a passion for Goldorak) a taste for inventive images, experimentation and curiosity. Passionate about travel and pop culture, he co-founded Fantrippers with Nicolas Albert to share his passion with as many people as possible.

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