A Must See Film
Stephen Hand | MA, USA | 05/27/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"For some inexplicable reason, I completely missed this 1989 film about St. Francis directed by Liliana Cavani. I didn't even know it existed until this week when I happily stumbled upon it and rented it, only to view it last night for the very first time. Neither did I ever notice that Francesco, starring Mickey Rourke and Helena Bonham Carter, is one of the fifteen films listed on the 1995 Vatican film list in the category of "Religion." And it was placed high on that list for a good reason. It is simply the best cinematic retelling of the story of St. Francis I have ever seen. This may be due to the wonderful cinematography, which oscillates between the sunlight and torchlight shadows of the middle ages, and it may be due to it's period authenticity and lack of over-acting which is the bane of so many films about the poverello.
Unlike Franco Zeffirelli's movie, "Brother Sun-Sister Moon", which makes St. Francis appear something like a 60's founder of a hippie commune, Cavani makes St. Francis more human, a young virile man grasped by, and growing into, the awareness of God ---and his poor--- without glossing over that grace which leads him from curiosity about God and about human suffering to a radical love for simplicity rooted in creation and the cross. That radical love issues in a desire to alleviate that suffering whenever possible through works of mercy, all depicted movingly in this film. When Francesco holds a bowl, there is food in it for the poor.
It was this love for creation which possessed Francesco, a creation which pointed Francesco straightway to the Creator who was otherwise blissfully untutored in the sometimes bewildering details of theology. His school was the cross of Jesus which, upon conversion, he hugs so profoundly in this film. And he knew the Beatitudes, unlike, alas, so many America First Catholics in this country today who seem to prefer war to the call to be peacemakers and to the admonitions of the popes. For such, the peacemaking of St. Francis must seem impractical, madness; something to explain away rather than imitate.
Francis loved voluntary poverty and detachment from the bondage of the love for material things. Possessing nothing, he would possess all and give all.
While there are the usual and true encounters with the monstrosities of some hypocritical church leaders of the time in this movie, even one burning at the stake which utterly repels the future saint, Cavani also shows the true willingness of Francesco's bishop to give him a chance to show that he was not simply another heresy-prone enthusiast which plagued the Church at the time. This film is far from a subtle polemic with subtexts againt the Church. Francis is indeed a reformer, but, true to history, his was the reforming of a son, of a lover of the Church, not that of a bitter revolutionary. Like a true reformer he was always reforming first himself, striving against "the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life," (1 Jn 2:15-17).
In my opinion the younger Mickey Rourke, something of a bad boy of American films, does a splendid job in this film. His portrayal is at once utterly convincing and charming. Helena Bonham Carter as Clare has the lesser role, but her devotion to the saint is clear. Her cherubic face and eyes lend an innocence to the event which they, together, were and are.
I was reminded once again that the friars life with its eschatological dimension is a sign not only of the Kingdom of Heaven, but a call for us laypersons here and now. A call to simplicity, to love of Christ's poor, to peacemaking and the stewardship of creation. And it is ever a reminder that theology must be made flesh, not merely talked or written about. Do see the film. ----Stephen Hand, TCRNews.com
Philip Tan-Gatue | Manila, Metro Manila Philippines | 05/07/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Being a longtime devotee of Saint Francis, I have read at least 10 biographies and seen the three most famous films about him. Francis of Assisi (1961) is a good introductory film, while Brother Sun Sister Moon (1973) was an adequate retelling of the story. In my mind, however, Francesco is the most historically accurate of the three. There is little of Hollywood or Flower Power in here. Francesco's struggles and rough faith journey is well presented. The names used for the main characters is in the old Italian, with Chiara used instead of Claire, Leoni instead of Leo, among others.
Good points: Vangelis' masterful score lends a tangible atmosphere of spiritual struggle. Helena Bonham Carter's Portayal of St. Claire, or Chiara, was insipiring and memorable. I named my daughter Chiara as a result. The supporting characters, especially Pietro Catani and Leoni, were magnificent.
Bad points: Unfortunately, this movie couldn't be perfect. The one fly in the ointment for me was Mickey Rourke. At times, especially in scenes involving lepers, he truly captures the character of the saint. Most of the time, however, he just seems to me to be rattling off memorized lines.
Another point worth noting is that the miraculous events of Francis' life were minimized. No talking crucifixes or any of that here. Only the stigmata. But what an impact that scene makes!
I've seen two versions of this movie. One was from a Japanese laserdisc and another was the VHS version. It appears that scenes were rearranged for the VHS version, and I suppose that this accounts for the "disjointedness" that many other reviews mention. The Japanese laserdisc version I saw had a much more coherent scene arrangement.
Still, I give this 5 stars."
Amazon Running Time is Wrong
S. Aydt | Dallas | 03/12/2010
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Those expecting to receive the complete 157 minute version of this film will be disappointed. Running time is 119 minutes. Almost 37 minutes have been cut. If you are seeking the complete Cavani film THIS IS NOT IT: the advertised running time is wrong. What a disappointment!"
Do not pay attention to previous review.
R. Paramo | Miami, Florida United States | 02/21/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Do not pay attention to the previous review. Although it does not especifically says, I am sure it is the film by Liliana Cavani, one of the best Italian film directors ever. There is a new DVD version available here."