Rossellini's St Francis

 There have been a few films made about St Frances of Assisi - Zeffirelli's 1973 Brother Sun and Sister Moon with the Donovan soundtrack, and before that the lavish 1961 Hollywood version with Bradford Dilman in the title role. Both are very well-intentioned, beautiful to look at and terribly pious. Neither of them come near Roberto Rossellini's Francesco giulare di Dio (Francis, God's Jester), recently released on DVD.

Rossellini made this short film with co-writer Frederico Fellini just after the end of World War Two. Shot in black and white, with non-professional actors - including 13 real Franciscan friars - it reveals, with grace and simplicity, more of the humanity and spirit of Franciscan teaching than much more lavish productions.

The movie focuses on a few key episodes in the life of St Francis and his brothers. We see their struggle for survival, their struggle to be good, to stay true to the word of God. At times that struggle becomes comical - one cooking scene is worthy of Laurel and Hardy. At others times it is incredibly moving - as when Francis meets the leper. Describing this scene director Martin Scorsese said: "Francis' lack of self .. never fails to move me - the way he feels the suffering of another human being so completely that he allows it to enter him and inhabit his own soul. I've never seen another film that deals with this basic question of compassion so eloquently."

Scorsese writes that Rossellini always spoke with great simplicity on questions of faith. In The Miracle he addresses the wonder of faith; in Germany Year Zero, the absence of faith, in Europa 51, the crisis of faith - and, he writes: "in this extraordinary film he writes about the beauty of faith. I've never seen another film quite like Francesco giulare di Dio, and I don't expect to again in my lifetime."

Francesco giulare di Dio would make a wonderful resource for catechists or a prayer group. It is available in the Masters of Cinema Series.

LONDON - 4 October 2005 - 300 words

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