The Flowers of St Francis (Francesco, giullare di Dio) (Francis, God's Jester) Reviews
This is a film that dares to approach the subject of enlightenment and application of faith with minimalism and purity. The film isn't romantic or colamitous in any way, which isn't all that abnormal in a film except this film isn't aiming for that. It isn't some kind of pretentious goal of the filmmaker, but rather a side effect of honest storytelling, and that's what "The Flowers of St. Francis" is on a fundamental level: honest.
Whether you're a believer or a heathen, if you walk away from this movie without feeling some semblance of joy and hope than you're either daft or dead. This is a masterpiece about harmony and love for one's fellow man while serving and admonishing God.
Rossellini, following an episodic structure perhaps trying to mirror the lessons tought by Jesus Christ in the Gospels, treats the characters as disciples and divides the whole story, although chronologically, as individually told parables, each one containing a lesson, which could be interpreted, as follows:
I. Rejection in His name.
II. Clothes for the naked.
III. Following the example of our greater brothers in faith.
IV. Personal encounters with our brothers/sisters in faith.
V. Feed the hungry, and God's generosity shall multiply in your life.
VI. Feeling the pain of those in disgrace and our impotency to free them from their pain.
VII. For it is better to preach with examples than with words.
VIII. Nobility's conquer over ferocity.
IX. Conquering oneself and enduring pain in His name is perfect happiness.
X. He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation." - Mark 16:15
This review is as unbiased as the film attempts to be depicting the lives of these striving souls, who think they are following the correct path, but they are not, given that they execute their deeds expecting something in return, and hold the idea that God will reward them based on deeds, when the Bible says otherwise. As a Christian and son of God, this kind of life is incorrect, and the philosophy of life of this people is a deviation from what God intended for the life of men, but it is virtually impossible to resist the almost neorealist poetry that films like Francesco, Giullare di Dio or Journal d'un Curé de Campagne (1951) hold, being the celluloid contributions with a gigantic heart that they are, which have the power of reflecting the condition of any viewer regardless of his/her beliefs.
Francesco, the jester of God, the mini-Christ of his own flock of disciples...
Well, I have no taste for it. The film is supposed to be about St Francis of Assisi, but if there is a main character in this disjointed series of anecdotes, it is a monk called Ginepro, who is a kind of village idiot whose silliness often veers into outright cruelty. In once scene, he decides to fulfill a sick monk's request for a pig's foot by going into a pigsty and cutting a live pig's foot, interpreting the poor animal's cries as his thanking the Lord for an opportunity to help a monk. Accompanying Ginepro is a demented old man who seems to have even less sense than him, throwing the wood into the pot rather than into the fire and that sort of thing.
If, say, Alejandro Jodorowsky (one of the most anti-Christian filmmakers I know of) decided to make a film about drunk Buddhist monks, you would get the same kind of "spiritual value". The monks are mostly comical figures, seen running to and fro like Jawas, with St Francis at their head bursting into tears in almost every sequence he is in.
Though "The Little Flowers..." has been restored by Criterion, the soundtrack is far from crisp, which makes it all the more unnerving if you are not used to Italians shouting right and left.
The film gives a very one-sided view of Franciscan spirituality, as Rossellini himself admitted. I can't say I find that view particularly attractive or inspiring. If you want a quick introduction to the saint, I recommend Battaglia's comic book biography instead.