IFF: The Flowers of St Francis

(Francesco, giullare di Dio)
(Italy, 1950, 83 mins, 35mm)
In Italian with English subtitles
CAST Aldo Fabrizi, Arabella Lemaitre, brother Nazario Geraldi, Father Roberto Sorrentino, brother Nazareno


When Cardinal Bergoglio became Pope Francis last year, it was an expression of the humility and love he admired in Saint Francis of Assisi - which also happens to be the subject of this beautiful, sweetly spiritual and unexpectedly whimsical film written by Federico Fellini along with the pioneer of neo-realism, Roberto Rossellini, who also directed.

The film is based on two books, the 14th-century novel Little Flowers of St. Francis and The Life of Brother Juniper, both of which relate the life and work of St. Francis and the early Franciscans. Little Flowers is composed of 78 small chapters. The book as a whole is less biographical and is instead more focused on relating extravagant tales of the life of St. Francis and his followers. The movie follows the same premise, focusing on nine of vignettes, or chapters. Each chapter is composed in the style of a parable, and, like parables, contains a moral theme.

Monks from the Nocera Inferiore Monastery played the principal roles. Playing St Francis is a Franciscan brother, Nazario Gerardi (uncredited). The only professional actor in the film is Aldo Fabrizi, who had worked with Rossellini on Rome Open City, and who plays the tyrant of Viterbo.

Although contemporary reviews were poor, Pier Paolo Pasolini said that it was "among the most beautiful in Italian cinema", an expression echoed by Francois Truffaut, who called it "the most beautiful film in the world."

“I’ve never seen the life of a saint treated on film with so little solemnity and so much warmth.” Martin Scorsese