Timing is indeed everything, and MoMA’s brief run of César Charlone and Enrique Fernández’s desperation dramedy couldn’t have come at a more serendipitous moment. This story of Beto (Troncoso), a Uruguayan smuggler who bikes daily to Brazil and back with illegal imports, might have once been seen as little more than a decent regional-cinema curio. With our own economy now limping along, filmgoers are apt to find fresh resonance in the tale of a man forced to compromise his values out of rock-bottom necessity. Ditto the real-life flash point: the Pope’s 1988 visit, which Beto and his countrymen regard as the answer to their antipoverty prayers. This immensely popular political figure would apparently fix everything. (Sound familiar?) History, of course, dictated otherwise, while film history tells us that stories about poor men with bikes never end happily.
Of course, you don’t have to tie The Pope’s Toilet to our current moment to be moved by the Sisyphean sight of a man limping down the road with a commode on his back. The movie’s strengths (and weaknesses; what’s up with the awkward whimsy?) would play without crises or ongoing dread. But watch it now, and you’ll be surprised how such a little movie can cut so deeply to the bone.