Friday, July 11, 2008

Five (or Six) Franciscan flicks... for your summer viewing

It’s just too darned hot! At first, I thought about writing a brief column on summer reading—basic sources about Sts. Francis & Clare, Franciscan life, spirituality and traditions, and so on. But then it got so to be too much here in Sacramento—over 100 degrees every day this past week and pollution overflowing from nearby forest fires. I thought “Let’s be realistic. Who wouldn’t rather watch a flick instead of read a book under these circumstances?” So, the book list will have to wait a bit—at least until it cools off here.

So, if you would like a more direct, visual experience and encounter with Franciscan life, you may want to consider renting or even buying one of these films. Each provides its own unique portrayal of the lives of the early Franciscan saints. This list is not meant to be representative or exhaustive. For instance, we need more info about films on St. Clare. If you have any other recommendations, responses, or reactions, feel free to share. I’ll be happy to post them in the blog. Meanwhile, stay cool and enjoy!--ct

Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1972) ***
Director: Franco Zefirelli
Actors: Graham Faulkner, Judi Bowker, Leigh Lawson, Kenneth Cranham, Lee Montague
Languge: English, French. Run time: 121 minutes
Format: VHS, DVD.
DVD list price: $14.95. Available through Amazon. com

Call it what you will—romantic, escapist, totally unrealistic. It doesn’t matter. The truth is that, even after more than thirty years, this film continues to inspire and attract people to Franciscan life. Don’t ask me how exactly. But trust me, it does.
Although it echoes in some ways the counterculture of the Sixties and Seventies, Zefirelli’s film adaptation of the lives of Francis and Clare strikes a deeply sympathetic chord with viewers. I know for a fact that more than one friar has received the inspiration for his vocation from this flick. It’s not just the lush photography of the Umbrian landscape or the winning melodies of Donovan—it’s, well, it’s the wonderful combination of passion, youthful idealism, and simplicity that charms and captivates the viewer.

Francesco (1989) ***
Director: Liliana Cavani
Actors: Mickey Rourke, Helen Bonham Carter
Languages: English, Italian. Run time: 119 minutes
Format: dvd, List price: Available through

Mickey Rourke as Saint Francis? Those familiar with Rourke’s ‘bad boy’ image may wince at the suggestion. But in this dramatic, but not overacted representation of the life of Il Poverello, Rourke gives a more than credible performance. Director Cavani has given an honest portrayal of the meaning of suffering and the necessity of the cross in the real sanctification of Francis. This very serious, gritty, and historically accurate portrayal of Francis, Clare, and the early Franciscan men and women provides a satisfying antidote for those who find “Brother Sun/ Sister Moon” more than a bit spacey, and cloying in its romanticism.

The Flowers of St Francis (1950) ***

Director: Roberto Rossellini. Co-writer: Frederico Fellini
Actors: Pino Locchi, Gianfranco Bellini, Arabella Lemaitre, Roberto Sorrentino, Aldo Fabrizi. And unnamed Franciscan friars.
Language: Italian, w/ English subtitles. Run time: 87 min.
Format: b&w, dvd. DVD list price: $29.95

Ingeniously, Rossellini made use of actual Franciscan friars in this portrayal of selected scenes from the Fioretti or Little Flowers of St. Francis—a collection of legends about Francis and his early followers which still enjoys some degree of popularity even today. There is a definite feeling of postwar grittiness to this film in its starkness, the texture of the black&white format, the awkwardness of certain scenes and even much of the acting. But the figure of Francis is sensitively portrayed, and solid and convincing in its ascetic gaze. This is about spareness and austerity, not happy-go-lucky romanticism. A serioius film about a serious subject matter—the deep longing for God that Francis expressed with his life.

Francis of Assisi (1961) no rating
Director: Michael Curtiz
Actors: Bradford Dillman, Dolores Hart
Languages: English
Run time: 105 min.
Format: color, dvd, vhs. List price: $14.95 (but available for less from
Trailer link: ttp://

Since I haven’t had the chance to see this film myself, I’ll just quote from a few, varied opinions offered online. What do you think?

--“ Earnest, yet so-so rendering bio reinactment, 'Francis of Assisi' doesn't give the troubadour saint the spark he deserves. The film is a product of its times, giving the movie a lot of ceremony, but not much substance. “
-- “This film on the life of one of the Church's greatest Saints was never given the proper credit it deserved. Bradford Dillman shines as the merchant turned Saint….Dolores Hart as Clare,shortly after playing this role ,left Hollywood to become a cloistered nun….Lots of spiritual awakening in this great film."

Saint Anthony: The Miracle Worker of Padua (2004) ****
Director: Umberto Marino
Actors: Daniele Liotti, Enrico Brignano, Jose Sancho
Language: Italian, w/ English subtitles. Run time: 95 min.
Format: dvd. DVD list price: $24.95. Available through Ignatius Press:

A surprisingly gripping telling of the life of St. Anthony, tracing his early life and conversion in Lisbon, the discernment of his Franciscan calling, and his life-long struggle for spiritual transformation. This is not a biopic about a plaster saint; Anthony lives, breathes, and struggles mightily with questions of faith. The portrayal is emotionally evocative and believable, even though in a purely physical sense, the leading actor, Daniele Liotti, does not quite cut the ascetic figure of the ‘real’ Anthony.

Anthony: Warrior of God (2006) *
Director: Antonello Belluco
Actors: Jordi Molla, Joe Capalbo, Matt Patresi, Arnoldo Foa
Language: Italian, w/ English subtitles
Format: dvd. Running time: 102 min.
List price: $24.98. Available through Xenon Picures, Inc. and

In contrast to Umberto Marino’s more panoramic vision of the life of St. Anthony, this film concentrates on the experiences of the mature saint in his ministry to the people of Padua. The subject of usury—the confiscatory interest charged by the city’s moneylenders—is at the heart of Anthony’s struggle here. Jordi Molla’s portrayal of the saint is sympathetic, but lacks the sense of unfolding spiritual development through the course of his life. In a sense, the story here is as much about Padua as it is about Anthony.

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