Roberto Rossellini was moved by his concern with the cynicism and despair of postwar Europe. His Saint Francis offers an answer of old-fashioned simplicity and innocence to counteract the slyness and cunning of modern world (paraphrasing the booklet). It's an idealistic film. A film of vulnerable and unashamed idealism -like his monks-.
This film was doomed to be misunderstood, if not dismissed as retrograde in its values, or simply ignored. But Christian values don't cease to exist just because we don't see them practised on the silly box. The evidence is that Rossellini has put them in front of our modern eyes and they still make the same impression on us: they are the right -righteous- values. Times don't change, just as values don't change, only the will of the people to accept or deny them.
The question we face in this movie is: How do we apply these values of innocence, purity, unselfishness, meekness, and charity to modern times? Do they change with the times or do they mean the same as they did in the 13th century? Evidently it's us who have changed not the concepts. Why? Because watching this film Rossellini has made us identify with the Franciscan monks, with their unselfish love and innocence; he has made us see the world -even though a long gone world- with our present day eyes and we have -hopefully most of us- identified with them.
Why aren't there any more people like them today? I think there are. If only they would make movies about them. If at least we agree that those Christian values shown to us in the film are good, immutable and worthy to be pursued yesterday as much as today, we have a premise to work with. Then, the next step would be to conclude that pursuing those values are the right and laudable thing to do; at least to try to do. But on the contrary, we distance ourselves more and more from the ideal using all kinds of childish excuses: it's retrograde, old-fashioned, un-realistic and many other things.
That an ideal is hard to achieve does not make it inadequate. On the contrary, we should strive harder to pursue that ideal. Once -long time ago- it was easy to be poor, to walk barefoot in the mud or in the rain, to sleep on dirt floors in the open, to give everything you had to another person because you had so little that you could -God willing- get it back some time soon. And now, when we have so much, we give so little. How much love can we afford to give away once we've given it to our families, our most intimate friends and ourselves? Not much, the tip. How much stuff can we afford to give away once we have satisfied our lust, materialism and greed and that of our loved ones? Not much, the tip. However today we have much more than yesterday; shouldn't we be giving more too? This film leaves a sad impression of our drifting more and more away from our purpose driven lives.
It teaches by contrast. The message is as clear as Jesus' parables for those who want to understand them. If you laugh at it then you are the laughable. 'Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.'