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St Francis of Assisi - God's Jester

a review of the film about St Francis of Assisi. "The Flowers of St Francis of Assisi" by Roberto Rossellini

St Francis of Assisi

St Francis of Assisi was born to a wealthy and affluent family. As a young man he enjoyed these these privileges and enjoyed the world to the full. However a serious illness led him to question his role in life. He came to realise the futility of his worldly life and dedicated his future to life to the Christian ideal of renunciation, simplicity and a life of prayer.

The Flowers of St. Francis (the full Italian name is, Francesco, giullare di Dio (Francis, God’s Jester), directed by Roberto Rossellini is a portrayal of various incidents in the life of St Francis and his followers.

The film successfully conveys the ideals and experiences of these devoted monks. The simplicity of their lifestyle and beliefs is matched by a the mode of filming. There is no real plot or character development. It is made up of several seemingly unconnected episodes which highlight one aspect of the community’s experiences. The opening scene sets the tone of the film despite treacherous weather and material privations the monks endure we see the genuine happiness and joy the monks experience through living a life of devotion to the monastic ideal.

To give the film an idealistic flavour, the director R.Rossellini choose mostly non famous actors. For example the monks were played by actual Benedictine monks. St Francis does not take a starring role in fact many of the chapter concern a simple monk brother Ginepro. He expresses great naivety and one of the most striking chapter is when he stumbles on the stronghold of the tyrant king Nicolaio. In stark contrast to the humilty and gentleness of the Assisi community the King’s encampment embodies almost the exact opposite of noise, brutality and enmity towards ones fellow men. Yet despite the most degrading treatment the King is finally overawed by the genuineness of Ginepro’s humlility and innocence.

It is a theme which runs throughout the film its success lies in the fact that it never strains or seeks to promote the spirituality of the monks. It merely offers irresistible scenes, which empathetically bring us into their world. It is a brave film because it departs so much from what we expect from a film, but in a way this becomes the making of the film. To the monks of Assisi happiness comes through the joy of being a witness to the teachings of Christ. Their vision of happiness is so remote from the usual worldly norms and expectations that a different pace and approach of filming is required in order to have a different spiritual perspective

To a large extent the director Roberto Rossellini carry’s this off. It is particularly to be admired that he never seeks to impose a romanticised view or make it more palatable for audiences. The feeling is that it is genuine filming of one of Christianity’s greatest Saints. (The short Gregorian Chants are also beautiful)


Prayer of St Francis of Assisi

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is Hatred, let me sow Love.
Where there is Injury, Pardon.
Where there is Doubt, Faith.
Where there is Despair, Hope.
Where there is Darkness, Light, and
Where there is Sadness, Joy.

O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much
seek to be consoled as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.


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