"Franciscan peace is not something saccharine (...) Nor is it a kind of pantheistic harmony with forces of the cosmos (...) It is not Franciscan, but a notion that some people have invented! The peace of Saint Francis is the peace of Christ" (Pope Francis at Assisi).
I have decided to begin my review on this movie with the words of the Pope who clearly follows the profound footsteps of the great medieval saint at the dawn of the new century and the new millennium. Undeniably, saint Francis of Assisi has been, for centuries, an inspiring figure amongst both believers and non-believers and, consequently, a hero of the screen in recent decades. Although some great films have been made about him, most of them have appeared to be 'personal interpretations' rather than 'pious biopics' And we have the purely Hollywood product by Michael Curtiz, the ultra popular, a bit saccharine yet beautiful BROTHER SUN SISTER MOON, the intensely individualistic FRANCESCO GIULLARE DI DIO, the controversial FRANCESCO by Liliana Cavani. After the unsuccessful FRANCESCO by Michele Soavi, the movie by Fabrizio Costa appears to be a true surprise though it clearly bears resemblance to many TV productions and recent films of religious themes. In what way does it surprise us and refresh its thematic concern?
When I decided to see this film, a thought accompanied me not to look back at previous films but try to see it as a fresh, new vision at the same time deeply rooted in Franciscan spirituality. It seems to be primordial to state clearly that CHIARA E FRANCESCO, as the title suggests, is the very first movie which places both saints of Assisi as the true protagonists of the movie. Costa's film is equally the story of saint Francis as it is the story of saint Clare from the very start. Inseparable and profoundly linked protagonists whose lives are directed towards common experiences. Surely, most of the films about the saint depicted Clare as well but she was, in most cases, a supporting character if not marginal. Clare, inspired by the example of Francis, follows his footsteps in a more profound way. Let me focus on her portrayal in a more in-depth manner.
Many viewers will probably agree that there could be no better choice for the role than young, subtle, beautiful Mary Petruolo. As a newcomer, she is free to reveal all virtues of the figure. The young actress manages to handle the role with excellent skill of combining the magnetism on the screen with the spiritual growth that is necessary to be delivered in order to understand the character. While her scenes alternate with the scenes of Francis, her way to dedicate her life to God delivers perfect dramatic resonance. Portrayed along with her sister Agnes (Camilla Diana) and mother Ortolana (Antonella Fatori) alongside the context of the cruel uncle, the storyline is clear, absorbing and very educational. There are two scenes that make Clare unforgettable from this movie: the first being her visit to the prison in Perugia and giving bread to the prisoner, the second being Christmas at Greccio.
Francis of Assisi, "perhaps the only genuine successor of Jesus" (Aste) is portrayed by young actor Ettore Basi and again, it seems important to state: do not look back and compare him to Graham Faulkner, Mickey Rourke and others. He is different, yet, he carries the necessary aspect of Francis: lovable yet harsh, smiling yet serious. As a matter of fact, the storyline spans the whole life of Saint Francis and most of the events are portrayed in a biopic like manner from his conversion to the visit in Rome, to the visit in Holy Land and the meeting with the sultan, the stigmata, the wolf of Gubbio and death. All is handled with artistic sense and religious piety. The actor does a great job in that respect because he makes his character believable and close to modern audiences. At the same time, he is not someone who aims at "harmony with forces of the cosmos" but his conversion is rooted in "the gaze of the crucified Jesus" (reference to Pope Francis' words).
Among the supporting casts, a notion must be made of Antonella Fatori, Angela Molina as Pica, Lando Buzzanca who creates a very vivid picture of Pietro di Bernardone, Gabrielle Cirilli as a very interesting character of Illuminato (a sort of saint Peter-like character who denies and asks for forgiveness), and Lando Buzzanca as Pope Innocent III.
Yes, the scene at the papal court is something I would like to make a broader notion of. Surely, it is not the emotional, visual and musical crescendo filmed at magnificent Monreale (as it was the case in Zeffirelli's movie) but a scene in between many that nicely delivers the contrast of two lifestyles. No one preaches anyone and yet both worlds are united by the power of the Gospel. Francis' submission to the pope is beautifully displayed in his passionate desire to live like Christ and his love to the Church he calls 'family' There is, of course, one historical mistake at the portrayal of pope Innocent III as the pope himself wrote in his DE SACRO ALTARIS MYSTERIO that "the Roman Pontiff does not use the shepherd's staff" (he is, however, showed to carry one here).
A great merit of the film is the music score by Marco Frisina. It escapes any associations with particular sub-cultures and harmoniously embraces simplicity and delight. The famous CANTICLE OF THE SUN as the thematic track is really beautiful and touching.
CHIARA E FRANCESCO pays tribute to Il Poverello and his first female follower. It echoes certain films that left their traces before and yet touches us in a new, refreshing way. That is, after all, the way things are about Francis and Clare ...do not look back but look ahead in order to see the new dawn within the renewal of living according to Gospel.
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