The Flowers of St. Francis (1950)
By Criteria: The Catholic Film Podcast ( bio - articles - email ) | Oct 13, 2022 | In Criteria: The Catholic Film Podcast
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The great Italian director Roberto Rossellini made what is generally regarded as the best movie about St. Francis of Assisi. Its original Italian title is Francesco, giullare di Dio (“Francis, God’s jester”), but in English it is known as The Flowers of St. Francis—the film being based on a 14th-century Italian novel with the same title.
As the Italian title suggests, Rossellini wanted to focus on the whimsical aspects of the saint’s personality. He sought to capture “the merrier aspect of the Franciscan experience, on the playfulness, the ‘perfect delight,’ the freedom that the spirit finds in poverty, and in an absolute detachment from material things,” all elements he had found in the book on which the film was based.
The film faithfully imitates the simple poignant and amusing charm of its source material, right down to its structure as a series of vignettes with no overarching plot. Like the book, it is about St. Francis’s followers as much as the saint himself, and particularly focuses on the misadventures of Brother Juniper, as found in the Life of Brother Juniper, a text associated with The Little Flowers of St. Francis.
In keeping with Rossellini’s prior work as one of the founders of Italian neo-realism, the film uses almost no professional actors: all the Franciscan characters are played by real Franciscan monks. This too contributes to the film’s purity and simplicity—an appropriate tribute to St. Francis.
The film is one of two about St. Francis that were included on the Vatican’s 1995 list of important films. The next episode will be about the other: Liliana Cavani’s Francesco (1989).
Music is The Duskwhales, “Take It Back”, used with permission. https://theduskwhales.bandcamp.com
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