John Paul I and Life for Life (Two Ignatius Press movies)


Pope John Paul I: The Smile of God is another papal movie available from Ignatius Press, like Pius XII: Under the Roman Sky and John XXIII: The Pope of Peace. The biggest difference between Pope John Paul I and the other papal movies is that this one is in Italian with English subtitles. Had I read the description a little better, I might have avoided this film, because when I watch a movie I want to watch it, not read along, but I am glad I gave it a shot.

The biopic begins with Cardinal Albino Luciani (future Pope John Paul I) on a pilgrimage in Fatima, Portugal speaking about Our Lady of Fatima. He receives a message that a nun would like to meet with him. That nun is none other than Sister Lucia of Fatima. In their meeting, she keeps referring to him as Holy Father, even through he tries to correct her saying that she is mistaken. She then reveals to him that he will one day be pope. We then are taken on various flashbacks of Albino Luciani’s life. We see a near death experience when he was a youth that made him want to become a priest. We see his father’s initial refusal of him wanting to be a priest, but relenting when he promised to serve the poor if he became a priest. In the flashback of World War II, we see a juxtaposition of the gruesome reality of it all with Luciani’s mercy shown toward a Jewish family hiding from the Nazis. There are also glimpses of his tutelage under the future Pope John XXIII.

Throughout this whole movie, we see Luciani’s smile, both in good situations and bad situations. The actor, Neri Marcorè did a wonderful job portraying why this holy man was indeed called “The Smile of God.” While, this wasn’t a complete movie of Pope John Paul I’s life, it was enough to give you a glimpse at the significance of this man and his short papacy. I wasn’t an initial fan of the movie being in Italian, but it grew on me. Church just sounds better and prettier in Italian for some reason. This is definitely a movie worth watching if you want to know about this recent, but largely overlooked pope.

Life for Life: Maximilian Kolbe is a recent movie release by Ignatius Press of a movie that was originally released in 1991. The film gets the title from the story of how Maximilian Kolbe took the place of another prisoner in the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1941, and ultimately gave up his own life. If the movie was about this alone it would have been enough for me, as it would show how modern day people can be like Jesus. Instead, the film decided to make that story more of a back-story.

The movie begins showing life and work in a concentration camp. There is little to no dialogue at all, just many people working and the sound of machinery squeaking and honestly making an awful sound. We then see a man, Jan, digging in a pile of dirt that collapses on him. I believe it was intentional, but the way he emerges from the dirt, you’d think he almost died down there. Work has ended for the day, so he uses that moment to escape. Because of his escape, ten people will now die. As stated above, Kolbe is not one of the ones selected to die, but takes the place of one.

Jan’s survivor’s guilt and guilt that ten men died because of him serves as a big part of the story. I wish that they had started at the beginning of Kolbe’s life and walked us through up to his heroic death in Auschwitz. Instead, we got this artistic view of Kolbe instead. Another point that made the movie a bit difficult to watch was that it was in Polish. As I’ve said before, I’m not a fan of reading while watching a movie, because you can miss a lot and you are left at the mercy of the translator. I did appreciate there being an Ignatius Press study guide included with the DVD. Overall, I’d give this move 4 stars.

These movies were provided to me for free by Aquinas and More Catholic Gifts and Ignatius Press. If you found these reviews helpful, please click here and/or here and hit Yes!

Copyright 2015 Stuart Dunn


About Author

Stuart Dunn was born and raised in Mobile, AL and received a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a Master of Business Administration from the University of South Alabama. Stuart primarily does accounting and logistics at the Port of Mobile. He married his wife, Mary Katherine, in 2011 and welcomed their first child into the world in 2013. Stuart reviews all things Catholic including adult books, children’s books, Bible Study series, Catholic Courses, CDs, and DVDs in addition to board games at his blog Stuart’s Study at

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