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Entertainment Fact check: Did 'The Two Popes' really bond over Fanta, pizza and soccer?

20:50  01 december  2019
20:50  01 december  2019 Source:   usatoday.com

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There's a lot to unpack in "The Two Popes," an imagining of what happened behind closed doors as the conservative Pope Benedict XVI (played by Anthony Hopkins) revealed his shocking wish to retire to the future and far more progressive Pope Francis (Jonathan Pryce) in 2012.  

a group of stuffed animals sitting on top of a table: Popes Francis (Jonathan Pryce, left) and Benedict (Anthony Hopkins) bond over World Cup soccer in © PETER MOUNTAIN Popes Francis (Jonathan Pryce, left) and Benedict (Anthony Hopkins) bond over World Cup soccer in "The Two Popes." The film, which arrives in theaters Wednesday in New York and Los Angeles and streams on Netflix Dec. 20, attempts to lift the papal veil on a historic power shift that led to two living popes housed within the Vatican walls for the first time in more than 600 years.

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USA TODAY spoke to director Fernando Meirelles ("City of God") on everything from the pontiffs' supposed meal of pizza inside the Sistine Chapel to how the Vatican has responded to the film. 

Did the two popes really share Fanta and pizza?

Not really. “The Fanta is real,” says Meirelles, alluding to Pope Benedict's long-documented love of the fizzy orange drink. And “the two popes did meet three times before Pope Francis was elected. So the meetings are real as well. But the pizza I just came up with. That was my thing."

They also probably never watched soccer together 

At least, not as joyously as the film portrays. “It seems Pope Benedict doesn’t like (soccer); he likes Formula 1,” Meirelles says. “It would have been a good opportunity, but we really made this up.” In fact, the Vatican even released a statement in 2014 saying Pope Francis and ex-Pope Benedict would not likely not be watching together when their home countries Argentina and Germany faced off at the World Cup Final. 

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But what is real, the director says, is the substance of the two popes' philosophical debates in the film. “All the dialogue, this is all taken from speeches or interviews or their writings," Meirelles says. "So what they say in the film is what they did say at some point in their lives.”  

What about Pope Francis whistling ABBA?

Pop culture references sneak into “The Two Popes,” including the ABBA tune "Dancing Queen" that then-Cardinal Bergoglio hums in a Vatican bathroom. (The track is also used as the cardinals walk through the Sistine Chapel in 2005 to vote for an incoming pope.)

“It’s a joke that nobody gets," Meirelles says. "The lyrics at that point of the music say: 'Friday night and the lights are low ... You come to look for a king / Anybody could be that guy' as the cardinals are walking. We wanted something popular; Bergoglio would be whistling something popular. Probably Pope Benedict (a classical music fan) doesn’t even know what ABBA is.”

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a person wearing a red hat: Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins, left) confides in Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce) in the Netflix dramedy © PETER MOUNTAIN Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins, left) confides in Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce) in the Netflix dramedy "The Two Popes."

Why mute Pope Benedict’s confession?

Some critics have expressed frustration at the limited way in which "The Two Popes" addresses Pope Benedict's responsibility to take on pedophilia within the Catholic Church. (Stop reading now if you don't want to know how the film handles it.) In a key moment, the dialogue during Benedict's fictionalized confession is mostly muted after he admits knowledge of a guilty priest, and the film dispenses with the topic after the scene is over.

“We had more lines, we had another two paragraphs on that," Meirelles says. "But my feeling is that if we would go very deep on child abuse, the film would be a film about it, because this issue is so strong. And the film is not about the church and the mistakes of the church. We mention it, but it's not about it. ... The film was a film of Pope Francis. Not on the problems of the church.”

Has there been any feedback from the Vatican?

“We showed it to some people from the Vatican, but outside of the Vatican," says Meirelles, noting positive feedback. "Of course, we’d love to have a screening inside, but I think it will never happen. Even if they see the film, they won’t tell us."

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The director even thinks the pope emeritus became more winsome in the fictionalized story. "To be honest, I think Pope Benedict is better in our film than he is in real life, (more) charismatic," he adds. "Anthony Hopkins can’t help himself, he’s charming. So, good for Pope Benedict.”

Any chance the two popes ever tangoed?

"No, I think not," Meirelles chuckles, explaining why he included a scene of Pope Francis briefly tangoing with Pope Benedict as he exited the Vatican. "The script was quite difficult because at the end of the day it’s two men talking about religion – not very exciting. So it was a big challenge to make it entertaining and engaging. But every time I read that scene, I said, 'It’s not going to work, this is too ridiculous.' I said, 'I’m going to shoot it because it’s here but I’m sure we’re going to cut it in the final cut.' But (Pryce and Hopkins) made it work, they made it emotional. So I was surprised."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Did 'The Two Popes' really bond over Fanta, pizza and soccer?

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