The Life and Teachings of Pope John Paul II Warner Home Video, £19.99 Stations of the Cross Vision Power £9.99 THE FIRST THING to strike one about this papal documentary is that it carries a PG certificate. Some scenes, apparently, may be unsuitable for young children. A documentary about the Pope? Crikey.
Given the times in which John Paul II has lived it is actually understandable. and the scenes of war and holocaust, with Schubert and the Holy Father's words in the background, are as powerful and distressing as they are intended to be.
The film is narrated by James Fox, but the appellation "documentary" is actually bit of a misnomer, as this is not really a documentary at all. There is no analysis of the Pope's teaching, no contextual information or even any commentary. What there is is an album of moments; short pieces recording the key incidents in John Paul II's papacy. Provided that one accepts the uncritical premise, the simple recording of his words. without challenge or criticism, particularly on those most contentious issues of women and sexuality, is not a problem. There will be plenty of analysis when this papacy comes to an end.
It is an affecting film, conveying both the warmth and sternness of a man whose impact on the Church and the world will be felt for a very long time. Montage shots of the Pope on his many international trips and with world leaders record his role in fighting communism. particularly in his native Poland, and his interventions in the military conflicts which have dogged his papacy.
Although beginning with a brief biographical account leading to Wojtyla's elevation to the Papacy, thereafter the film jumps about in quite a disjointed fashion. The account is not chronological, and this leaves one without a complete impression of the Pope's career.
Nevertheless the content is well-selected, although some events are skipped over very briefly, notably the attempt on the Pope's life. To hear him speaking directly to an interviewer, in English, about his calling and his feelings upon becoming Pontiff ("a very tough moment for me") is a rare treat, though the footage is quite old. Also striking, as the film progresses, is the impression the viewer gains of the Pope's physical deterioration, from the uplifting face of the early years of his Papacy, to the weary pain which characterises him now.
.Accompanying the Life and Teachings is a shorter film, The Christmas and Easter Liturgies, as celebrated by the Holy Father. The title is again misleading, as Christmas does not get much of a look-in. The bulk of the tape is given to the Easter Liturgy.
This time we actually see narrator James Fox in the locations of the celebration, explaining the events and translating where necessary. The always moving Holy Week liturgy is sensitively recorded and the film reminds us very effectively that, before everything else, the Pope is a priest.
Integral to the Easter celebration are the Stations of the Cross. There have been translations of the Stations into book and online form (see http://www.loretto.unet.comichapel/stations/stationa.htm for one example of the latter) and now there is a video version, first broadcast on S4C some years ago. It will be a boon for those who are unable to practice their faith with others. A shot of each Station is followed by prayer and scripture. Traditional shots of old temples, hillsides, oceans and sunsets then give space for personal prayer and meditation. The filming is a bit amateurish and the Dr Whoish soundtrack occasionally intrusive, but it serves a purpose.