The Pope’s Toilet


City of God cinematographer turned director César Charlone and co-pilot Enrique Fernández’s modestly charming and wry allegory proves that heartbreaking social realism set in impoverished corners of the world can be—regardless of that unfortunate title—more than mere colon-cleansing cinema for the liberal guilt-ridden. In the rural Uruguayan village of Melo, outside the Brazilian border, family breadwinner and grocery smuggler Beto (César Troncoso) regularly pedals with pals on wobbly bicycles for a meager fistful of pesos, presuming the corrupt customs guard doesn’t shake them down en route. It’s 1988: Pope John Paul II is about to visit Melo, while the locals prepare to sell their streetwares to the expected thousands of devout visitors. After a series of disappointments and harsh compromises, Beto unwisely schemes to build a pay-per-use baño in his yard, a last-ditch effort clouded by blind optimism and materialist fantasy. Interweaving TV street-interviews from the era, and fittingly less (if still a little) coked-up than Charlone’s usual camera glitz, The Pope’s Toilet entertains, even while it illustrates how the impoverished can adjust their religious ideals out of desperation. Or could it be about the papal class pissing on its followers?