Roberto Rossellini’s The Flowers of St. Francis is a film I had not heard of until some weeks back. The story is simple enough. It follows a group of monks in medieval Europe as they live their lives, and learn lessons through various episodes that are broken up into specific segments, most of which use parable to provide lessons in living a Godly life. The film is a composition of chapters. They are led by Saint Francis, a man who we learn comes from a wealthy background and has adopted a life of simplicity and God.
A brief lesson about St. Francis of Assisi, because I want to know a bit more for contextual reasons regarding this review. He was a man who actually lived from 1181 to 1226. He, indeed, grew up in prosperity and spent much of his younger years living a sinful life before turning to God. The above source gave further insight into St. Francis as well as Rossellini’s film. While I enjoyed the movie basically blind to the background information (I’m not the most knowledgable Christian), skimming some background information on this particular character has made me appreciate the film more. So I think that one ought to read some of the background above before viewing the film. That said, one can still enjoy the film without reading up on its historical basis. I still managed to.
The chapters themselves are quite interesting, as are the other friars who follow Francis throughout the film hoping to become Godly men who chose a life of isolation and simplicity. They opt to reject the sinful ‘world’ rather than be a part of it.
There is a simple-minded friar whose love of God helps him prevail even in the face of strong adversary. There is the old man who has renounced his life on the farm and chose to join Francis’ brotherhood. He spends much of the film struggling to adapt to the far more strict lifestyle demanded by Francis, but his love of the saint and God are stronger than his own worldly desires. By film’ end he has come full-circle. He is a man of God who can willingly give the last of his limited wardrobe to others, which is an act he fought vehemently against early in the film.
This is not a flashy film, but it does not aim to be. In fact, the use of simple film-making works better as a means to parallel the sort of life adopted by Francis and his followers. It is an instance proving that sometimes, indeed, less is more. It has great moments that one can appreciate on a moral level, especially those out there who are looking for a film that has strong Christian messages.
So yes I did enjoy this movie quite a bit. It is one of those films that you will enjoy watching only to find even greater appreciation in after thinking it over. My only gripe was that it started off a bit slow, but I think it will fare better on re-watch due to myself having a little bit more context. Overall I am very happy that I discovered it and urge you to do the same.
Note that this is a very tentative score. If I do re-watch this film in the future, I could very well see it elevating to a 4/4. Also I think that I am going to start rating films like Ebert where I will allow half-stars but no lesser fractions. This way the ratings ought to be easier to gauge. After all, 4/4 is easier to understand than 3.91/4.
P.S. In writing The Flowers of St. Francis, Rossellini collaborated with three other men: Félix Morlión, Antonio Lisandrini, and somebody by the name of Federico Fellini – you might have heard of him (hint: 8 1/2).