When a shout of "Habemus papam!" — Latin for "We have a pope!" — rang out onscreen, viewers at a theater in the Argentine capital erupted in a standing ovation recalling the emotional moment when one of their own was named as the new Roman Catholic pontiff.
Francis: Father Jorge, which premiered here Tuesday night, portrays the life of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires, before he became pope in 2013.
An Argentine-Spanish production, the film explores key elements of Bergoglio's life from his ministry to impoverished slum dwellers to his fight against poverty, prostitution and drug trafficking.
It also shows personal moments such as the time his grandmother gave him a book on St. Francis of Assisi, the humble friar who dedicated his life to helping the poor.
The volume had a profound influence on Bergoglio and ultimately helped inspire him to take the name Francis after assuming the papacy.
The film is expected to arrive in Spanish theaters next week and then open in Italy. Based on the book Francis: Life and Revolution by Elizabetta Pique, a Vatican journalist close to the pope, it stars Argentina's Dario Grandinetti, best-known for his role in Pedro Almodovar's Talk to Her, in the title role.
"When they offered me this project, I thought they were a bit crazy. It seemed mad," said Grandinetti, who portrays Bergoglio as a serious and shy, yet affable man. "But when they told me this project was really taking shape, that it wasn't a delusion, I had no choice but to take it seriously."
Grandinetti said most of the actors in a scene set at a Buenos Aires slum were people who knew Bergoglio before he became the first Americas-born pope. At one point in the movie, Bergoglio greets a young man and tells him he baptized him.
"And it was true," Grandinetti said. "That kid had been baptized by the pope before he was elected in Rome. It was very powerful to live that."
Francis, 78, had an immigrant upbringing in working-class Buenos Aires and as pope has criticized what he sees as the injustices of capitalism, which he says prioritizes money over people. He has electrified crowds in overseas trips, and revolutionized the papacy with his calls for a more merciful church.
"I stepped out of the movie theater moved by the life of the pope — a symbol of work, austerity and humility," said Ana Sotelo, a 35-year-old teacher who attended the premiere. "He is a pope like no one has ever seen before."
The movie also shows the former cardinal's devotion to his beloved San Lorenzo soccer club. Francis celebrated last year when the team won South America's Copa Libertadores tournament, saying wryly that he was overjoyed with the victory but it didn't constitute a miracle.
Crowds in St. Peter's Square often toss the pope red-and-blue-striped San Lorenzo jerseys, which he accepts. But when a journalist lobbed one for Grandinetti before the screening, he didn't pick it up from the floor.
"In the movie I tried to behave as if I was the pope," he said later with a smile. "But in real life, I'm not a San Lorenzo fan."