The Pope's Toilet

Melo prepares for the anticipated 1988 visit of Pope John Paul II

REVIEW In the Uruguayan hamlet Melo, poor residents like Beto (César Troncoso) squeak by smuggling consumer goods over the border from nearby Brazil — despite being frequently stopped, harassed, and robbed by corrupt, mean-spirited customs guard Meleyo (Nelson Lence). When Pope John Paul II's 1988 visit encompasses a stop in Melo, the villagers enthusiastically prepare for an anticipated huge tourist influx, hoping their makeshift food stands and other services can reap life-changing profits from the visiting faithful. It's Beto's idea to build a flush-toilet bathroom outside his humble home that relief-needy procession-watchers can pay to use. Erecting it, however, involves getting in financial bed with the untrustworthy Meleyo, and some white lies told to Beto's long-suffering wife (Virginia Méndez) and primly disapproving daughter (Virginia Ruiz). Enrique Fernández and César Charlone's Uruguay-Spanish co-production deftly melds two quite different things: the sweetly comic village ensemble piece and the pitiless Bicycle Thief-style portrait of desperate measures that those without class, educational, or government resources must take to get ahead — or just survive. Charlone, a cinematographer turned director who previously shot Fernando Meirelles' features City of God (2002), The Constant Gardener (2005), and this year's Blindness), lends the countryside a poetic beauty to soften the co-directors' sometimes harshly realistic script.

THE POPE'S TOILET opens Fri/30 in San Francisco.

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