Upon hearing rumors that 20,000 Brazillian tourists will be flooding their tiny Uruguayan village for the 1988 visit of “The Traveling Pope,” His Holiness John Paul II, the locals of Melo eagerly sell their land and take out enormous bank loans in preparation to erect nearly 400 food stands in the hopes that God will provide them with fortune.
While his neighbors opt for mouth watering recipes, long-time smuggler Beto—weary from the lengthy treks he makes along into Brazil to bring back goods to sell to businesses while dodging a crooked customs officer—decides to put on his notorious thinking cap, scheming that logically after one eats, the next requirement will find passersby looking for a suitable restroom.
Impulsively, he enlists the help of his devoted but frustrated wife and ambitious daughter who longs to escape her fate and become a journalist, by erecting an enclosed “pay toilet” fit for a Pope on his property. However, when the expenses begin mounting, Beto finds himself struggling to make ends meet, not only to provide for his family but also to create what he deems will be the moneymaking answer to all of their problems, which he—along with his neighbors—feel will no doubt be solved by, if not a Catholic miracle, then a visit from the Pope.
Alternately funny and melancholic, with an obvious homage towards classic Italian neorealist films such as The Bicycle Thief, this deceptively simple and quirky offering became Uruguay’s official entry to the Academy Awards. It also raises some vital questions about ethical and moral obligations and implications that arise when religious figures travel to poverty-stricken communities, leading to mixed results that are sure to have film festival attendees chatting away, especially while in line for the restroom.
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