An odd little film, but so exhilarating that I don't think the experience will ever leave me. I can't even really say why it pleased me so much, but it's the kind of film that just makes you appreciate the beauty of the world around you. It's so gentle and miraculous. The film follows the simple life of Francis of Assisi and the friars who followed him. Born the son of a rich merchant, he practiced poverty to honor Christ. We see vignettes as they were described in the titular hagiography (no doubt adapted freely by the screenwriters, among whom was Federico Fellini). They are often beautiful and touching, but more often than not they have a tinge of comedy. In fact, you can really see Fellini's talent starting to emerge here. The style is very reminiscent of his early work. Within Rossellini's career, it eclipses probably all of his other films, many of which are admittedly fantastic (I think Stromboli, which was released near the same time, is a close second best). There's just a beauty in it. I am not Catholic and know nothing of St. Francis of Assisi, so I don't know if I'm missing anything. But to me it felt like a true celebration of humanity.
The film dramatizes about a dozen vignettes from the life of St. Francis and his early followers, starting with their return in the rain to Rivotorlo from Rome when the Pope blessed their Rule, and ending with their dispersal to preach. The unconnected chapters are like parables, some with a moral. The slight, comic Ginepro returns naked to St. Mary's of the Angels, having given away his tunic but not his ricotta. The aged Giovanni shouts and holds onto his cape; the beatific St. Clair pays a visit. Humble Francis doubts his leadership, hugs a leper, and sends his brothers spinning, dizzy, and smiling into the world. This brotherhood is infused with whimsy as well as belief.—
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