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Philomena Lee Meets the Pope

The subject of the Weinstein Co.’s “Philomena” met Pope Francis at the Vatican on Wednesday, an unusual encounter that added to the publicity surrounding the movie in the midst of the Oscar race.

Philomena Lee, whose son was sold for adoption by nuns in the 1950s, met with the Pope after Mass in St. Peter’s Square, along with her daughter and Steve Coogan, one of the stars of the movie and its producer and co-writer. Last week, Lee was in Washington to meet with lawmakers about the Philomena project, in which she is pressing the Irish government to open up adoption information as well as procedures to reunite families. The meeting was all the more extraordinary in that some have characterized the movie as anti-Catholic, though the filmmakers rebut that it is very pro-faith.

As unusual as the meeting was, it also is impossible not to view it as perfectly timed to build momentum in the Oscar race. The merging of on-screen social issues with off-screen events is now a given in the weeks leading up to the awards. Last year, for instance, Bradley Cooper and David O. Russell met with Vice President Joseph Biden to talk about the state of mental health, as “Silver Linings Playbook” was in contention.

The Pope’s spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, seemed to address this on Tuesday, when he told reporters, “The Holy Father does not see films, and will not be seeing this one. It is also important to avoid using the Pope as part of a marketing strategy.” Nevertheless, there were reports that a screening would be held at the Vatican.

At a press conference last August when the film premiered at the Venice Film Festival, director Stephen Frears said he was eager for the pope to see it. When asked why, he responded, “He seems like a rather good bloke, the pope.”

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