Monday, August 31, 2009


This is the third film about St. Francis that I have seen in the past few years, after FRANCIS OF ASSISI and BROTHER SUN SISTER MOON; it's the least dramatic (which is not necessarily a bad thing); it reminded me of Pasolini's GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ST. MATTHEW in its earthy, low-key approach, using mostly non-professional actors--in this case actual monks. The film is not a biographical narrative but an episodic string of vignettes involving Francis and his small band of friars. In Francis' life, the film begins where BROTHER SUN ends, with the friars returning home from Rome with the Pope's blessing, and ends with Francis (Brother Nazario Gerardi) deciding that the group needs to split up with each friar spreading the word of God on his own. Among the vignettes: the friars out in the soaking rain, denied entrance to their own shack by a squatter, yet still filled with the joy of life; Brother Ginepro frequently arriving back half-naked because he's given his tunic to the poor; the friars getting quite excited by a visit from Sister Clare; a poignant meeting between Francis and a leper; Francis asking a flock of birds to stop chirping while he prays. The longest episode has Ginepro, the simplest of the bunch, mistaken for an assassin by the forces of the warlord Nicolaio (Aldo Fabrizi) who has occupied a local village. Nicolaio orders him killed, but Ginepro's passivity and humility baffle him, and he winds up not only letting the friar go, but taking his men and leaving the village. The scene is violent--Ginepro gets roundly roughed up by the warriors--but also humorous, with Nicolaio stuck in a huge suit of armor that he can't see out of. The vignettes are separated by title cards accompanied by a churchy organ chord. Directed by Roberto Rossellini, a few years after his acclaimed neo-realist masterpiece OPEN CITY; the style of this is realistically gritty in some aspects (the mud, the dirt, the unadorned countryside, the primitive housing), but it really feels more like myth or magical realism, even though the only real "magic" is when the birds stop singing. Federico Fellini co-wrote the screenplay. [Ovation]

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