The Flowers of St. Francis Movie Review

Few filmgoers are aware of Roberto Rossellini's ode to St. Francis of Assisi, The Flowers of St. Francis. More of a treatise on the Catholic religion and its most famous friar than an actual film, there's probably a good reason few have seen it. But now Criterion has reissued the film on DVD, so the rest of the world can bask in its quirky joys.

The film is told in unconnected vignettes, all set in the hills outside Assisi, where St. Francis and his band of merry monks whiled away their simple days. It's hardly an estate they were living on: A couple of stone huts and a bonfire, that's about it. I spent the first half of the 82-minute film trying to figure out what they did when it rained and where exactly they slept.

Rossellini offers a half-dozen short stories about the monks and their deeds, focusing on wise Francis and somewhat simple-minded Ginepro, from cleaning up the huts with a makeshift broom and a carpet of fresh flowers, to Ginepro foolhardily lopping a pig's foot off to feed a sick resident of the camp, to the film's big set piece, which has Ginepro wandering into a barbarian's camp (remember this is the 1200s) to preach, only to become the ball in a cruel game of catch (not to mention a jump rope), and nearly killed -- until he's ultimately spared thanks to his devotion to God.

The Flowers of St. Francis is a film for the faithful more than your average filmgoer. Shot with real monks (with real shaved heads!), the film demands to be taken seriously, even if it contains numerous lighthearted moments. Though I'm not Catholic, I found it touching in the end to see how Francis worked with his followers. It may even have applications in modern management theory, who knows.

Still, calling the film a masterpiece would be hyperbole. There's just not enough of a film here to really even be a "piece," much less a canonical part of cinema, or even among Rossellini's body of work. It almost goes without saying that the film's production failings -- choppy editing, out-of-sync audio, and generally decaying film stock -- detract from the simplicity and wisdom of its message.

Aka Francesco, giullare di Dio.

Cast & Crew

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Comments

The Flowers of St. Francis Rating

" Good "

Rating: NR, 1950

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