It is a film with an exceptional cast. Among others are Christopher Lambert, Marie-Christine Barrault, Giancarlo Giannini, Remo Girone, Gedeon Burkhard, and David Wall. It will be shown, outside the competition, during the Cannes Film Festival and, for 10 days, during the World Meeting of Families, planned for September 2015 at Philadelphia.
The film tells the story of a journalist charged with conducting an investigation on Pius XII. At the beginning, he is very skeptical and critical; then he meets with witnesses and persons that challenge his preconceived thesis.
In the course of several meetings, with individuals and children of survivors of the Holocaust, the journalist discovers that Pius XII was not a timid Pope who did not succeed in opposing Hitler, but who in truth succeeded in saving hundreds of thousands of Jews from the gas chambers.
Reactions to the showing of the film have been lively, with criticisms and controversies but also with great appreciation.
To understand the reason for the criticisms in relation to the film’s effective value, ZENIT interviewed the Director and author, Liana Marabini.
ZENIT: There have been different reactions to the showing of the film: some very positive, others neutral and some very negative. Did you expect this?
Marabini: Yes, I expected it. It’s a very controversial subject and it’s normal that reactions are of all types. No one is so naive as to think that the reactions would be unanimous. The purpose of the film is to stir talk about Pius XII and the injustices he has suffered and still suffers, bringing documented proof: not unpublished proof, but a selection of those that already exist which are very many. The film was thought out not as an historical monument but as a window opened on a controversial affair, which leaves space for curiosity to reflect further on the subject. Pius XII is the most misunderstood figures of the 20thcentury. Therefore, it’s good to seek to explain things somewhat, especially the reason for his silence.
It’s not necessary to bury ‘Papa Pacelli’ under the dust of forgetfulness, which at times history accumulates on things and persons.
ZENIT: It’s surprising to see the criticism of some Catholic journalists. What do you think in this respect?
Marabini: I expected many criticisms: let them come, because they stir talk about the film and, implicitly, about Pius XII. However, frankly, I didn’t expect so much spite from certain Catholic journalists. I take note and respect everyone’s opinion, even when they are against my work.
Some criticisms are unfounded, others very well founded, as the one that states: “It could be done better.” I agree, everything can be done better, a film and even a newspaper. We are here to improve.
To the criticism that chides the film for its simplicity, I answer that it’s a film for all, not for historians and not for an elite. It’s a message, not a test. Historians should not scorn those who aren’t historians and the masses aren’t. Jesus loved the masses.
There are also two criticisms that aren’t “very Catholic,” made, however, by a Catholic newspaper and this surprises me. I was reproached for a scene of the film that talks in favor of priestly celibacy and for another scene, where communion is given in the mouth and not in the hand.
To the first I answer that priestly celibacy is to be supported with all means, because it is a non-negotiable value. I will soon publish, with my Publishing House, a book on the subject, which gathers the writings of great contemporary authors and notable men of the Church. The book will be given as a gift to all seminarians.
To the second criticism, I make it noted that all of us, priests and laity, regardless of our liturgical orientation, “modernists” or “traditionalists,” must defend the totality of rites accepted by the Catholic Church, whether they are post or pre Conciliar, Ambrosian or any other. Unfortunately, there is already in the Church today a split caused by the liturgy: we should not increase it with inopportune criticisms, because it means that we criticize the Church herself and her accepted and codified precepts. And in the present case, for the “incriminating” scene: at the time of Pius XII, Communion was not imparted in the hand, that’s why it seemed obvious to me to put that scene in, to render a further tribute to ‘Papa Pacelli’, who lived at that time.
However, the comments will produce further controversies. We work for the Church and it makes no sense to attack one another: we leave this task to the enemies of the Church.
And the opening of the totality of the Archives, which I hope will happen in the imminent future, will prove me right,
I will not fuel these conflicts by responding to provocations: everyone is free to like or not like my film.
ZENIT: The film seems to be a much-needed attempt to confront the controversies. It is a story that takes into account many historical truths, and that in some way seeks to establish a dialogue with those who continue to have prejudices.
Why did you think of addressing such a burning topic, which still arouses so many controversies, with a beautiful story?
Marabini: For a long time I had in mind doing something for Pius XII: I believe it’s the duty of every Catholic. He is one of us, unjustly accused, not believed, not recognized, his memory is trampled upon and muddied every day by those – sometimes for having heard it said –who call him “Hitler’s Pope.” Our duty as Catholics is to love our neighbor to make him change his heart. I thought of a film because it is an immediate and accessible way for all. I created a story, to render it easier. The intention was to move from precise historical notions, with dates and facts, because if this had not been interwoven with a life story, it would have been boring. The film was also thought of for schools. In September it will be shown in 1,200 schools in Italy and abroad.
ZENIT: How is the distribution going? Is it true that the critical articles published in many parts of the world have in some way fostered the diffusion of the film?
Marabini: In reality, “the critical articles published in many parts of the world” are the quotations of those that came out in two Catholic newspapers mentioned above. However, I must thank them; we would never have sold the film so quickly. After the publication of the controversial articles, the sales climbed impressively. In only three days after the preview, we signed eight contracts, which alone cover the cost of the film. Before the end of the month we will have concluded sales contracts with 21 other countries (among them China and India). It’s an impressive result for a film of these dimensions, with a Catholic subject to boot.
ZENIT: You are the Director, the Producer and the soul of this film. Are you pleased with the work done?
Marabini: Yes, I’m pleased. We’ve been working for several years, beginning with the documentation, which lasted more than five years, then the preparation of the film for a year, its realization, the post-production and promotion took another year.
The fact that there is so much talk about it is good. We must continue to bring proofs of Pius XII’s actions in favor of the Jews; we must keep the interest alive for as long as necessary.
As Catholics, we must not be afraid of the attacks and the criticisms. We must not fuel the controversies, which cause separation. Fear and separation are the devil’s actions and we must not succumb to them. We must go forward and support, with all means, the memory of those who have rendered the Church even greater.
And Pius XII did.