Francesco giullare di Dio tells of a religious fraternity, St. Francis of Assisi and his poor brethren. The treatment completely lacks the deadly earnest approach of most religious films, which for the lay viewer often signals hypocrisy and pretence. An essential clue is the title. Fools traditionally have the right to say awkward truths and go unpunished. Here we join a band of brothers who have taken this attitude to the extreme to illuminate the comedy of living. The mood of the film is tuned between the devout and the comic, understanding both the material conditions of the brotherhood as well as the strangest flights of their spirit. When Rossellini explained the feeling of bliss and goodness hovering over the subject to the film’s only professional actor, Aldo Fabrizi (the brave priest of Rome, Open City), the actor muttered to himself: “He was completely crazy.” Such goodness was a subject of particular interest to Rossellini. It was for him both an absurdity, incompatible with social circumstances and the human condition, and for the same reason a mystery illuminated by deep tragedy. In the context of ‘historical neorealism’, Francesco is among the first films in which the distant past emerges with an immediacy comparable to the present. We viewers have a feeling that Roberto Rossellini has brought his news camera to record selected ‘flowers’ from the wandering life of Francis of Assisi and his brothers. Pier Paolo Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St. Matthew owes everything to Rossellini’s basic insight. And as for the sprawling, cascading structure of this film, or its combination of madness and devotion, films by Rossellini’s longtime colleague and assistant Federico Fellini such as La strada, are probably indebted to Rossellini. For Rossellini himself, this was an important opening into the cycle of biographies of great men he delved into during the 1960s and the last decade of his life, the 1970s. One can only bemoan how much richer the history of cinema would be, if the often rigid and lifeless biopics of great men would be animated by even a drop more of Rossellini’s wisdom. We face a rare experience, an immediate, captivating, wise, simple and multilayered film, one of those blessed works that not only renew our perception of the cinema, but also shake our worldview.
Antoisaa elokuvailtaa! I wish you a rewarding screening!
Peter von Bagh, television introduction Ennen elokuvaa (Before the Film), TV3 Finland, 24 April 1988 (translated by Antti Alanen)
Cast and Credits
Sog.: Roberto Rossellini, based on the anthology I fioretti di san Francesco by Ugolino da Brunforte and based on the biography La vita di frate Ginepro (XIV sec.). Scen.: Federico Fellini, Roberto Rossellini, Brunello Rondi, padre Antonio Lisandrini, padre Félix Morlion. F.: Otello Martelli. M.: Jolanda Benvenuti. Scgf.: Virgilio Marchi. Mus.: Renzo Rossellini. Int.: Nazario Gerardi (San Francesco), Aldo Fabrizi (il tiranno Nicolaio), Peparuolo (Giovanni il sempliciotto), Aribella Lemaître (Santa Chiara), Severino Pisacane (frate Ginepro), Giovanni Bellini e Renzo Rossellini (voci narranti). Prod.: Rizzoli e C., Produzione Film Giuseppe Amato. DCP. Bn.
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Music composed and directed by Maud Nelissen, performed by The Sprockets:
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