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Francesco Giullare di Dio - Masters of Cinema series [DVD]
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Roberto Rossellini and co-writer Federico Fellini lovingly render the very spirit of Franciscan teaching in this extraordinarily fresh and simple film which was unappreciated at the time of its release, but now regarded as one of his greatest. Shot in a neorealist manner with non-professional actors (including thirteen real Franciscan monks from the convent of Nocere Inferiore) it avoids the pious clichés of haloed movie saints with an economy of expression and a touching, human quality.
From the Back Cover
Inspired by I fioretti ("Little Flowers"), a collection of stories about St. Francis of Assisi and the Franciscan monks, Rossellini's Francesco giullare di Dio takes place in the early 13th century when violent conflicts between individual cities tore Italy apart. Pestilence and famine were widespread and the powerful abbeys became rife with corruption and abuses of power. Amidst this unrest, Giovanni Francesco Bernadine (Francis of Assisi) began to foster a community that challenged people to reclaim the humility and purity of the teachings of Christ. Presented, like the book it is based on, as a tableau of episodes from the life of 'the people's saint', Francesco giullare di Dio offers a compelling vision of life that rejects materialism and violence. Thanks to Rossellini's film, Francesco and his little brothers will remain alive forever: making handicrafts, planting seeds, and building huts in their harmonious accord between Man and Nature. Never properly released theatrically nor on home video in the UK, The Masters of Cinema Series proudly presents Francesco giullare di Dio in its fully restored glory. This is the original Italian version reaffirming intertitles and scenes removed from the US release version "The Flowers of St. Francis".
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This DVD is therefore a welcome issue showcasing Rossellini's biopic co-written with Federico Fellini and based on the books 'The Little Flowers of St Francis' & 'The Life of Brother Ginepro' (there is also an excellent book written by the author of 'The Last Temptation' & 'Zorba the Greek', Nikos Kazantzakis).
As with many films associated with the Neo-Realist movement and Italian-films that followed (La Terra Trema, Bicycle Thieves, Umberto D, Rome Open City, Accattone, The Gospel According to St Matthew,Salo), 'Francis, God's Jester' uses non-professional actors. It's actually quite a comic film- something Martin Scorsese picked up on recently when discussing it and other Rossellini films in his documentary on Italian Cinema and the opposite of the standard religious film more commonly made. 'Francis, God's Jester' appears to focus more on the idea of love via Christ and the positive force of the good news - something you don't really get from 'The Passion of the Christ' which seems limited regarding such a notion...
The film opens with the Franciscan order who leave the confines of their monastery to go and spread the word - a film that is quite simple, but no less a joy for it. 'Francis, God's Jester' is an extremely enjoyable film, possibly moreso with each subsequent viewing - wonderful to see it reissed!
However, I think this film will appeal primarily to worshippers of cinema rather than Catholicism. Rossellini & his young assistant Fellini followed the tenets of neo realism, using a group of non-actors (actual Franciscans) to play the roles & the whole film is very naturalistic & understated – in absolute contrast to the Biblical epics coming out of Hollywood at the time. And this unexpected idea of using neo-realism to present the archaic had a big influence on later directors like Pasolini.
Eureka’s “Masters of Cinema” series has done another good job here with a beautifully restored print. As an “extra” there’s even a documentary about the process of restoration! There’s also a booklet packed with essays & articles plus an intro from Scorsese.
The most beautiful aspect of this film is its simplicity and warmth. I also love the sense of playfulness and joy that comes across in the film.
This film walks the talk. It will open your heart.
It would be great to see more films by Roberto Rossellini brought out on dvd. In my opinion he is one of the most underrated but greatest directors in the world.
Appropriately enough, Masters of Cinema's DVD even has the nicest copyright warning I've ever seen: `Friendly notice: If you illegally copy this film, you are directly affecting the chances of other interesting films receiving the same care and attention.' Francesco would surely approve.