There are two movies about St. Francis of Assisi on the Vatican’s 1995 list of important films. The first, discussed in the previous episode, is Rossellini’s well-known Flowers of St. Francis (1950). The second is quite obscure: Liliana Cavani’s Francesco (1989), starring Mickey Rourke as St. Francis and Helena Bonham-Carter as St. Clare.Stripping St. Francis: Francesco (1989) | Criteria: The Catholic Film Podcast – YouTube
The best thing one can say about Francesco is that despite being directed by an atheist, it attempts to take its protagonist seriously as a saint; that it is somewhat faithful to the historical trajectory of his life; and that it does not embrace the usual reductive cliches about St. Francis.
Those qualities alone do not make for an interesting film, however, and Francesco would be a fairly rote biopic were it not for the casting of Mickey Rourke. But this casting choice is more of a curiosity than it is a strength of the film. For all the sincerity of Rourke’s performance, the lovable personality of Francis as universally attested by early biographies is almost totally missing.
This may be a deliberate artistic choice to strip St. Francis of a “superficial” charisma, in order to draw our attention to a deeper mystery at his core. But how much of the historical personality of Francis can we afford to lose before the exercise becomes fruitless? And speaking of stripping, while it’s true that a few famous incidents in St. Francis’s life involved nudity, the way these are handled onscreen is far from edifying…
In this episode, James Majewski, Thomas Mirus and Nathan Douglas attempt to make sense of the most dubious selection on the Vatican film list.