This past month, Netflix released a four-part biographical miniseries chronicling the life Pope Francis. Produced by filmmaker Pietro Valsecchi, Call Me Francis was adapted from the critically acclaimed 2015 Italian film Chiamatemi Francesco. Grossing nearly € 3.5 million, the film ranked second in the Italian box office its opening weekend. In 2016, Netflix bought the rights to the film and reworked it into four 50-minute episodes.
The series gives an intimate glimpse into the diverse life experiences of Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Episodes feature his days as a bachelor in Buenos Aires, his years as a priest during the height of Argentina’s Dirty Wars, and his days leading up to his election at the 2013 papal conclave.
Advertised as a film about “the people’s pope,” Chiamatemi Francesco originally premiered at the Vatican in December 2015. The Pope chose to not attend the screening— instead, he reserved all 7,000 seats for the “the marginalized of Rome,” including refugees and the homeless. In an interview with The New York Times, Msgr. Diego Ravelli, of the Office of Papal Charities said, “the Pope wanted to offer the lowly and the poor their rightful place of honor.”
The series opens with Francis— then the Archbishop of Buenos Aires— standing on a terrace of St. Peter’s Basilica at sunset. It is the beginning of the 2013 papal Conclave. “What am I doing in Rome?” Francis asks to himself. “At my age people retire…” The series works to answer that very question— the four-episode arc traces Bergoglio’s unlikely rise from his beginnings on the streets of Buenos Aires to his eventual appointment to the papacy.
Francis’s journey begins in Buenos Aires in the 1960s—Bergoglio is introduced as a twenty-something out to dinner with a boisterous circle of friends. Not yet a priest, he contemplates proposing to his long-term girlfriend. The series goes on to show his gradual process of discernment and eventual journey to the Jesuit order.
Perhaps some of the more intriguing moments of the series feature Bergoglio as a member of the Catholic clergy during Argentina’s “Dirty Wars,” a period of state terrorism during the late ‘70’s to early ‘80’s. During this time, the Argentine government ordered its military to kill or “disappear” political dissidents and communist sympathizers. Approximately 15,000 Argentine citizens are believed to have been killed during this period.
While some have questioned the Catholic Church’s silence during the Dirty Wars, the series chooses to highlight the heroic actions undertaken covertly by Bergoglio— actions often taken at great personal risk. One scene shows the young Jesuit giving sanctuary to dissident students wanted by the government. Another episode tells the story of a secret Mass that Bergoglio said for the Argentine president. Bergoglio confronted the president, asking to know the whereabouts of several of his “disappeared” parishioners.
The series examines the complex moral dilemma of clerical leaders in Argentina during the period. It also emphasizes the character of Pope Francis— a man who is well loved by the media, but whose past is still mysterious to many. Later episodes explain his rise in Church leadership and eventual departure for Rome.
Call Me Francis is currently streaming on Netflix. The movie can also be requested through Boston College Library Services.