The Pope's Toilet
Humble Hope in Hard Times
By JEANNETTE CATSOULIS, NT
An offbeat charmer, The Pope's Toilet is a humorous, well-crafted tale with plenty of heart and a poignant social message. -- Rotton Tomatoes
Inspired by the visit of Pope John Paul II to Uruguay in 1988, “The Pope’s Toilet” cloaks religious critique in the scrappy tempo of irremediable poverty and irrepressible enterprise.
Set in Melo, a godforsaken village near the Uruguay-Brazil border, the movie tracks the misfortunes of a dirt-poor petty smuggler named Beto (César Troncoso, resembling a less-exfoliated Omar Sharif). While his neighbors ecstatically prepare for a windfall from feeding the thousands of Brazilian faithful expected to attend the papal visit — one fearless entrepreneur even takes out a bank loan to buy sausage meat — Beto’s hopes rest on the opposite end of the digestive tract. If he builds a public convenience, who wouldn’t want to spend a peso?
Written and directed by Enrique Fernández and César Charlone, “The Pope’s Toilet” uses a seamless blend of professional and nonprofessional actors to take an oblique dig at a church that, the movie suggests, may have failed its most disadvantaged followers. Both filmmakers are Uruguayan (Mr. Fernández was born in Melo), so the hardscrabble details are touchingly credible, generating a tone of profound sadness — located most affectingly in the journalism-career dreams of Beto’s teenage daughter — that Mr. Charlone’s upbeat cinematography works hard to dispel. Despite the whimsical title, this is a movie that offers little in the way of relief, for villagers and audiences alike.
THE POPE’S TOILET
Directed by Enrique Fernández and César Charlone; written by Mr. Fernández and Mr. Charlone, based on an original script by Mr. Fernández; director of photography, Mr. Charlone; produced by Elena Roux; released by Film Movement. At the Roy and Niuta Titus Theaters, Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd Street. In Spanish, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 37 minutes. This film is not rated.
WITH: César Troncoso (Beto), Virginia Méndez (Carmen), Virginia Ruiz (Silvia), Mario Silva (Valvulina), Henry De Leon (Nacente) and José Arce (Tica).
Uruguayan directors César Chalone and Enrique Fernández co-helm the nutty Spanish-language farce El Baño del Papa (The Pope's Toilet). The film unfolds in 1988, during Pope John Paul II's visit to Uruguay. While dozens of economically struggling locals devise plans to turn a buck from the arrival of the papal father -- such as baking cakes and wrapping chorizo sausages -- only one concocts a scheme to earn a fortune from defecation. Beto, a nickel-and-dime smuggler, reasons that all of those cakes and sausages will be digested rather quickly and that over 50,000 locals will soon be clamoring to use the porcelain bowl. Of course, toilets abound in South America, but Beto sets his public toilet apart by crowning it with an aura of prestige -- his will be the only Pope's Toilet in all of Uruguay, and residents, he is certain, will soon be clamoring to use it. Unfortunately, before he can set his scheme in motion, Beto must first locate the most appropriate toilet and make several risky trips across the Brazilian border and back to that end. Then, just as Beto is within arm's reach of success, someone thoughtlessly steals his beloved bicycle -- further hampering his mission. Regardless of the complications at hand, however, Beto's determination persists.