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May 15, 2006

St. Francis

francesco.jpg

Francesco
Michele Soavi - 2002
NoShame Films Region 0 DVD

Prior to seeing Michele Soavi's version of the life of St. Francis, I saw three other films in the past week. In addition to Roberto Rossellini's Flowers of St. Francis which I wrote about, I also saw Franco Zeffirelli's Brother Sun, Sister Moon and Michael Curtiz' Francis of Assisi. While Soavi's is the most complete in covering Francis' life from childhood to death, it is still interesting to see different points of emphasis and filmmaking style from the four directors. Curtiz' version suffers from being the most Hollywooden with the traditional overwrought excesses of Biblical films from the Fifties. It also has one of the funniest (intentional?) lines when a character states, "It takes stones to build a church." Curtiz' film also has the unintended depth from the knowledge that the actress who played Clare, Francis' friend and first female follower, Dolores Hart, left Hollywood to become a nun at the age of 25.

What makes Soavi interpretation distinguished is his inventiveness with the camera. The film begins audaciously with a point of view shot with young Francis looking at the world upside down. Soavi's camera tilts skyward and down, spinning and still. There are frequent subjective shots, such as Francis seeing his reflection in a basin of water, or shots of Francis and Clare (Chiara) looking at each other at play. Soavi also makes use of extreme close-ups of faces in particular, but also hands and feet, often framing them partially and at odd angles.

Soavi also incorporates elements from previous St. Francis films. Ginepro, the "holy fool" from Rossellini's film appears near the end, while the scene of Francis undressing in the town square recalls Zeffirelli. Curtiz' film touches on how the Franciscan order became something different than intended by Francis following his pilgrimage to Jerusalem. This part of Francis life is more fully explored in Soavi's film with Francis struggling with the idea of codifying his ideas of religious life.

The film depicts how having a copy of the Bible in Italian, rather than Latin, was considered heretical by the Church. Soavi not only examines the difference in faith as expressed by Catholic Church of the 12th Century with that of Francis and his original followers, but suggests that Francis' message may have been corrupted with his group recieving Church recognition, as well as growing large enough to require formal organization, something Francis eschewed.

Considering that Soavi previously made a horror film taking place in a church, St. Francis may seem in some ways an uncharacteristic choice for the filmmaker. What this film shares with Soavi's earlier work is the theme of the difference between the world as it is, and the world as it is imagined.

Posted by peter at May 15, 2006 09:32 PM