Elio Germano’s Francis, the new film on the Saint of Assisi
by Francesca Facchi
TORONTO – Saint Francis has always been a source of inspiration for the cinema industry: several directors have dealt with his hagiography, such as Rossellini, Zeffirelli and Cavani, each of them focusing on a different aspect of the saint’s life and personality. Il sogno di Francesco (French: L’Ami – François d’Assise et ses frères) is a new entry to this list, confirming that the Saint of Assisi continues to fascinate the modern world. The movie, directed by Renaud Fely and Arnaud Louvet, is an Italian-French-Belgian production. Released in Italy on October 4 - the day dedicated to his name -, it focuses on the life of Francis right after Pope Innocent III’s decision to refuse the Franciscan rule, and on the troubled writing of the version which was eventually accepted by the Church.
In order to better portray such historical period, the directors chose to shoot the movie from the point of view of Elia da Cortona, Francis’s fraternal friend, and disciple. Elia is described by the directors as the one who mediated between the Ecclesiastical hierarchy and the Saint. Francis was not inclined to give up his ideals (nor his vision) as expressed in the Rule’s initial version, an insistence on his part that frequently put him on a collision course with his friend.
Narrated by a voice-over and divided into chapters dedicated to the first Friars of the Order, the film is defined by the two directors as, “with Francis rather than about Francis”. Indeed, it concentrates on the relationships among the founder and his disciples, their harmony with nature, but primarily on the deep and complex bond between Elia and the saint, the cornerstone of the narrative.
The complex task of playing the role of Saint Francis is taken on by the multitalented and capable Elio Germano. This is his second historical period movie, following on his excellent performance in Leopardi, the biopic directed by Mario Martone about the Italian poet.
This interpretation of Francis, who speaks with sparrows, sings with his brothers, prays and works with the people, following the most celebrated Franciscan tradition, tries to depict him as a feverish mystic. Germano’s theatrical performance contributes to this goal. However, the most striking characteristic that emerges and captivates the public is the incredible humanity of his story, and the aftertaste of bitterness that it leaves.
History notes how in the end, Francis relented and compromised with the Church so that his Rule was finally embraced by Ecclesiastical authorities. By highlighting this eventuality, Fely and Louvet lead us to view the movie as the defeat of a dream and an ideal, an outcome that often happens to the work of men of good will.
(Tuesday 25 October 2016)