FRANCESCO
Starring: Mickey Rouke and Helena Bonham Carter
Directed by Liliana Cavani

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Francesco is a beautiful film. But know, now, many times the acting has that kinda spaghetti-western-style of overt misplaced semi-professional-actors-upon-a-stage like bravado. Thankfully, the tilt-a-whirl of acting calibers does not take away from the story of St. Francis, or from Cavani's often gorgeous direction.

In the film, we are privy to Francesco's storied process of growing in spirit and higher-calling devotion. He basically goes from a gregarious, spoiled rich kid party boy to a leader of an entire ultra-strict religious order, living in poverty and ultimately becoming a Saint - a literal Saint, not a euphemism.

Story goes ...Francesco (Mickey Rouke pre-facial surgeries) lives a pretty privileged life; complete with boys-of-Italy-will-be-boys brothel visits and shooing away beggars like fly-fodder; It's a sharp verbal swat for those who dare enter his orbit. He’s livin’ the high life in his little Assisi.

In this story gleaned from parts of known biographical bits taken from Herman Hesse's 'Francis of Assisi,' Francesco changes the day he meets a stunning childhood friend, turned gorgeous lady, Chiara (played by Helens Bonham Carter who will become St. Clare). Immediately, Francesco attempts to woo her in his usual semi-pompous guy ways. She'll have none of it. Then, after Frank witnesses her odd kindness to a street urchin, he not only let a beggar in his store, but gave him many coins – while the lady was present.

What was perhaps, at first, a flirty gotta-get-the-girl ploy, has a huge impact when he realizes kindness feels good. And after a terrible time as a prisoner of war, where he watches a devote Jesus follower tortured to death for his beliefs, Francesco has an epiphany of the soul. He wants to fellow Jesus to the letter. When he is saved from captivity by his father's ransom, he chooses to leave all his comforts and goes to live among the poor. Some of his friends eventually follow him and also step away from their family wealth.

A charismatic man, now living with those he once winced at, Francesco begins to share his vision of life with less, and kindness to all. When this is not enough, he begins to beg God to speak to him. As it is shot, and probably looked to those around him, you have to ask, “Is he mad? Is he simply slowly losing his mind?”

And in this version of his life, the only animal-centric thingy really attached to his works is a lamb he, and his followers, spared from spit even though they were so hungry due to poverty oaths. Though, according to his actual friend and first biographer, it was his communing and speaking with many animals; most famously forest birds who, as legend goes, flocked around and stayed until his speeches were done. And, of course his then novel idea of treating animals as equals.

The film instead hones in on his becoming a man of poverty who goes from thinking he is better than most, to wanting to teach all are equal (poor, rich, learned, lepers, women, animals, etc.) ala one man: Jesus. Ultimately, both were very Universal Unitarian in the principles; all are beloved and to be respected – no denominational castes or judgments.

What ever Francesco did, and what ever has become lore, he lived his life as he wished and was a very kind man. This film shares parts of his story beautifully.

SIDE NOTE: Francesco was brought back from VHS by Film Movement. A distributor whose films vary in popularity, production value and content. What they share with film enthusiasts, is a love of the medium, and if you're a film person, seriously look in to their film club and/ or library: FILM MOVEMENT

 

 

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