Wednesday, January 5, 2022

#2,689. The Flowers of St. Francis (1950) - Spotlight on Italy


One of the premier filmmakers of the Italian Neorealism movement, Roberto Rossellini directed a number of classics in the 1940s, including Open City, Paisan, and Germany Year Zero, movies that focused on social issues of the time, often using non-actors for key roles and shooting not in a studio, but on-location to tell stories of famine, war, and the crippling effects of poverty.

The Flowers of St. Francis focuses on a much different reality; this 1950 film (which was co-written by Rossellini’s frequent collaborator, Federico Fellini) centers on the life and teachings of Francis of Assisi, a catholic friar who, due to his works of charity, was canonized a Saint by Pope Gregory IX in 1228. Using actual Franciscan monks to portray Francis and his followers, Rossellini crafted a poignant, beautiful, occasionally humorous motion picture.

Broken up into nine chapters, The Flowers of St. Francis stars Brother Nazario Gerardi as Francis, the spiritual leader of a community of friars. Living his life according to Christian principles, Francis inspires several of his order, including the often clumsy Brother Ginepro (Brother Severino Pisacane), to take up the mantel and bring the word of God to the masses, both in Italy and abroad.

Based on two 14th century novels: Little Flowers of St. Francis and The Life of Brother Ginepro, The Flowers of St. Francis features some truly gorgeous imagery (the opening, in which Francis and his community are walking through the rain, is breathtaking) as well as several poignant moments (while praying in the woods one evening, Francis encounters a leper, and is moved to tears).

In addition, the film contains a handful of scenes designed to make you laugh. Brother Ginepro’s first attempt at preaching nearly ends in disaster when the tyrant Nicalaio (Aldo Fabrizi) and his barbarians accuse Ginepro of being an assassin. Fabrizi, who played the pivotal role of the priest in Rossellini’s Open City, is hilariously over-the-top as Nicalaio, and at one point his barbarians grab Brother Ginepro and use him as – of all things - a jumping rope!

Despite being untrained actors, Brothers Gerardi, Pisacene, and the other Franciscans are convincing enough to make you believe they are, indeed, Francis and his followers, and the picturesque surroundings (the film was shot on-location in the countryside just outside Rome) also add an air of authenticity.

Selected by the Vatican in 1995 as one of the 45 greatest films ever made, The Flowers of St. Francis stands as yet another shining example of Italian Neorealism, and is a film I wholeheartedly recommend.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10

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