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The life of St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) as related by followers who gather after his death to tell stories so that Leone can record them: a privileged and virile youth, a prisoner of war, an heir who turns away from his father and gives all to the poor, a beggar for others, and an inspiration to friends who accept the Gospels' life of poverty. He seeks the Pope's blessing, and he endures persecution at the hands of the family of Chiara Offreduccio (1194-1253), who becomes St. Clare. Many join the order he has established and then rebel at his expectations. In near despair - and ill - he writes a Rule to take to the Pope; then, the Lord sends him a message. He dies smiling. Written by
Movie about MAN OF PASSION, more of pain than of song
Although the most famous movie about St Francis of Assisi still appears to be poetical BROTHER SUN SISTER MOON by Franco Zeffirelli, FRANCESCO by Liliana Cavani is, perhaps, less famous but appears to be more faithful to the biography of this great man who renewed the medieval church in the spirit of the Gospel. While Zeffirelli's film concentrates purely on the youth years of Francesco, his spiritual birth, his joy of life, and is, therefore, more an interpretation than a biopic, Cavani's film draws our attention to Francesco's suffering, his search for God not in flowers but in tears, and is, therefore, a very realistic biopic filled rather with pain than with song. But let me treat this movie separately, as an individual work since comparison may sometimes disturb the gist.
The first aspect that makes any movie good or weak are performances. Mickey Rourke is pretty memorable in the lead. There are his moments that really shine, particularly in the sequence of painful experience of the main character. Although Mickey is known for not so ambitious roles, you may get used to him as Francesco in the long run. Helena Bonham Carter is, perhaps, not the Clare many people imagine; however, she gives a profound performance of a spiritual person, a woman of charity and pure love, a woman of great sainthood. Francesco's parents, Paolo Bonacelli as Pietro Bernardone and a French actress Andrea Ferreol as Pica, are good. That seems to be quite probable how "worldly spirited" Francesco's home really was: dreams for business and luxury. Except for them, I liked Diego Ribun as Bernardo Quintavalle. He has that nobility in his face that Bernardo must have had (what we know from biographies). I also liked Fabio Bussotti as calm Leon called God's lamb. Generally, performances are fine.
The insight into the historical period is also accurate. Although one watches a biopic of a saint, this aspect of historical accuracy is pretty important. Liliana Cavani does a good job showing the reality of the medieval town, the cruelty of war, but foremost the horrific social discrepancies. That is what moved Francesco and promoted in him the desire to help, to hug a leper, to give the last slice to the starving, to offer a smile to the upset, in short, to regard the Gospel to the letter. Sometimes, these scenes may seem too realistic, too depressing; yet, they have to be there. When we consider the life of St Francis, it was, as I already mentioned, a way of tears. I will never forget the final scene, the real spiritual suffering that turns into physical one...and this physical pain occurs to be such a Gift of God...
The music is perfect. Vangelis, as always, supplies us with a profound tune that opens us to wonderful horizons. Francesco does not sing at all (which is a historical shortage), yet the music in the background fits really well as if to present a perfect harmony of flesh and spirit, the harmony that Francesco was given by his Master because he learned to love entirely, without any limits. In the final moments, Vangelis makes a combination of tunes applied to feelings. Unforgettable!
I recently saw FRANCESCO again after more than 10 years. Then, when I saw it for the first time, I did not like it that much, I found it too serious; perhaps I was more used to other biopics. Nevertheless, now I heartily recommend this movie to anyone who likes spiritual experience, who is able to see deeper, who looks at the world more through the eyes of love than through the eyes of reason.
Il Poverello, as Francesco is called, brought the message of peace and goodness, PAX ET BONUM, to every place where he stood. He brought love where hatred was, joy where sadness was, pardoning where injury was, smile where tears were, console where terror was. Although this message seems to be universal, is today's viewer able to understand these things? Is PAX ET BONUM (Peace and Goodness) something more than just a slogan of one man who lived hundreds of years ago? 7/10
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