Tuesday, October 06, 2015

"The Flowers of St. Francis": 1950 classic, nine little tales about humility

Following the visit of Pope Francis to Washington, New York and Philadelphia, there is some interest online in the 1950 film “The Flowers of St. Francis” (“Francesco, giullare di Dio”, or “Francis, God’s Jester”), directed by Roberto Rossellini, written with Federico Fellini, distributed by Joseph Burstyn. Inc.

The film is based on two loose “novels” from the 14th Century, “Fioretti Di San Francesco” (“Little Flowers of St. Francis”) and “La Vita di Frate Ginerpo” (“The Life of Brother Juniper”), with 78 little chapters total.  The film (87 minutes) has a prologue and nine of the chapters, which come across as Biblical parables.  Each chapter is introduced by a long title, translated.

There is an overwhelming emphasis, starting with the rain-soaked prologue, in communitarianism and personal humility. The title of the film comes from a hunt for flowers in the forest in the third parable.

The film, in black and white, has an other-world feel, with the very simple 15th century rural backdrops.  A few of the parables do have some interesting or bizarre concepts.

In the first parable, Brother Ginepro (Severino Pisacane) gives away his shirt to a man in need, yet the brothers don’t approve.  In the fourth, Ginepro cuts off a pig’s foot (to the consternation of villagers) to feed a starving brother.  In the seventh, the longest, Ginepro is apprehended and nearly hung, but his humility wins a reprieve from Nicalaio (Aldo Fabrizi).  The sequences (playing skip rope with his body alive) are rather startling. 

The film is currently available free on YouTube .   I did not find it on Netflix, which is surprising.


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