A Hand of Peace: Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust (2009) -Pick

Karol: The Pope, The Man (1995) -Pick

This week Ignatius Press releases a pair of papally themed DVDS, one on Pope Pius XII, the other on John Paul II.

A Hand of Peace: Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust offers a valuable introduction of the defense of Pius XII against charges of silence and complicity regarding the Holocaust.

Produced by Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation, the documentary blends archival footage and photos with expert interviews with Pius XII defender Sr. Margherita Marchione, historian Sir Martin Gilbert, and Father Peter Gumpel, relator of the cause for Pope Pius’ canonization.

A Hand of Peace documents acclaim for Pope Pius’ moral courage from World War II to the post-war expressions of gratitude of Jewish survivors and groups. It then charts the rise of the anti-Pius movement, from the KGB and the 1963 play The Deputy to Cornwell’s Hitler’s Pope.

At 55 minutes, A Hand of Peace is a high-level summary, and the final minutes are spent on a recap of the main points. But a few points I hoped to see (e.g., Cornwell’s public backtracking) weren’t brought up.

Even if you’re familiar with the controversy, though, you’ll learn a few things here. A Hand of Peace would be a good discussion starter for groups and would make worthwhile viewing for parents and teenagers.

Karol: The Pope, the Man picks up where Karol: A Man Who Became Pope left off, with Polish actor Piotr Adamczyk reprising his role as Karol Wojtyla, now Pope John Paul II, embarking on his momentous quarter-century reign.

The 185-minute sequel aims for a balance between the Pope’s thoughts and message and the momentous events of his papacy.

In addition to speeches and addresses, Karol makes effective occasional use of voiceovers in depicting John Paul II’s inner prayers and thoughts.

Presented in two parts, Karol’s first half is something of a blur, as the film attempts to keep up with the most globe-trotting pope ever, covering the Polish Solidarity movement and meetings with Oscar Romero and Mother Teresa, among others.

The 1981 assassination attempt slows him down a bit, but it isn’t until Part 2 that Karol segues from the story of a world-changing pope to a victim soul carrying his cross as Parkinson’s slowly ravages his body.

Like its predecessor, Karol takes historical liberties and shouldn’t be re--garded as straight his---tory. Adamczyk’s performance as the familiar pontiff is less persuasive than his young Wojtyla, but he conveys something of John Paul II’s spirit, if not his intellectual rigor and gravitas.

Aided by a fine Ennio Morricone score, Karol doesn’t top the Cary Elwes-Jon Voight Pope John Paul II, but it’s a nice addition.

CONTENT ADVISORY: A Hand of Peace: discussion of the Holocaust. Karol: The Pope, the Man: some violent images (e.g., assassination of Romero, assassination attempt on John Paul II); a few mature references (e.g., the Church’s teaching on sexuality). Both fine for teens and up.