Episode #04: The Flowers of St. Francis

This episode features some news updates (including the Criterion Channel launch) and an audio essay on Roberto Rossellini’s The Flowers of St. Francis, discussing its portrayal of the saint and his ideologies, plus the cultural context in which his story unfolds.

Links:

 

This episode features this music excerpt:

  • “Intermezzo” by Mascagni

 

Stromboli, terra di dio (1950)

Stromboli, terra di dio is the moody, deliberate character study of a desperate yet stubborn woman, played to perfection by Ingrid Bergman, who is pushed to the brink of madness (and possibly beyond).

It begins with uncharacteristic romanticism from director Roberto Rossellini, with a dreamy, idealized love affair between woman and man in a refugee camp, separated by a barbed wire. They agree to wed, and the two leave together to his homeland, the small island Stromboli.

She quickly discovers this is not what she had envisioned, despising every aspect of married life from the rugged terrain to her ancient, crumbling home to her husband’s measly wages. Her one companion is in the village priest, a friendship she destroys when she reveals her disturbing past and even makes romantic advances toward a man of God.

From this shocking midpoint, all bets are off as we realize our “heroine” is a seriously troubled woman led by her momentary passions, not by her heart. The film is not a moving journey of her learning to adapt to a new lifestyle, but watching to see how far she will unravel.

The heart-pounding finale leaves a great amount of ambiguity and room for interpretation, an exciting ending for a mostly neorealistic work. Rossellini expertly weaves together the natural landscape of the island with the narrative and thematic structure to underline the isolation and danger Bergman’s character has gotten herself into.

While slow at times, Stromboli packs a punch when necessary, and becomes an engaging and informative look at rural life in postwar Europe and how far a woman will go to escape her past life.

The Flowers of St. Francis (1950)

Actually the first film I’ve ever seen by Roberto Rossellini, The Flowers of St. Francis is the sweet biopic of sorts about St. Francis of Assisi and his followers (or flowers, if you will).

It is told in a serious of interesting, sometimes humorous, vignettes, such as St. Francis meeting a leper in the countryside, and the antics of the Saint’s followers. It is actually very interesting to see what their lives were like during this time period, showing their charity work and collaborations with St. Mary of the Angels and her respective followers.

It is almost more the story of these disciples, particularly Brother Ginepro, than of Francis himself. We don’t see him go through the typical hero’s journey of growth and redemption. We do, however, see his followers learn how to effectively embody and teach the word of Christ, making this more “their” movie in my opinion.

While engaging, The Flowers of St. Francis does not carry emotional poignancy until the very end; when St. Francis bids his followers goodbye and instructs them to go forth and preach, it is a very moving and inspiring moment to see his disciples, excited yet scared, work on behalf of not just their Lord, but also the Saint and man they admire so much.

It might be my Catholic upbringing talking, but The Flowers of St. Francis is an informative, surprisingly unpretentious, and truly heartwarming portrait of the People’s Saint.