Thursday, September 29, 2011

Night and Day: "Brother Sun, Sister Moon" (1972)

With all the parallels between this film and the hippie generation, it is ironic that the film's major strengths are its good old fashioned film standards.

Sadly, this film has no real plot to summarize. Graham Faulkner is very good as St. Francis of Assisi, a merchant's son who discovers God one day. He shuns all possessions, lives in poverty, and begins gathering devoted followers as he rebuilds a decrepit church on the outskirts of the city. Pope Innocent III decides an audience with Francis is in order, especially after the local bishop's troops try to burn down the church. The final scene between Francis and the pope is very good and very touching.

Everyone seemed to hate Faulkner's performance except me. He is very good as Francis, wide eyes and seemingly insane, but without being goody goody. Alec Guinness, looking like Obi Wan Kenobi, is Pope Innocent III, who eventually sees that Francis is living the Christian life so many others crave but are afraid to try. His scene is very good and too short.

My main complaint about this film is its lack of story. The pictures are very pretty, the music is nice, but not much happens here. This is a surprise considering the cowriters included the director and Lina Wertmuller, the diva of European cinema. Donovan's songs are no worse than the song compilations that pass themselves off as film soundtracks today. If anything, they are slightly inappropriate considering the time and subject matter, but I will listen to them another hundred times before I hear "Who Let the Dogs Out" on one more movie preview. Judi Bowker, as Clare, Francis' comrade in Christ, is absolutely wasted. Her character is the back half of the title of the film, and she is given little to do besides look at Francis coquettishly, and join his gang in time for the film to end.

If anything, the film will have you thinking about your own life and your hold on material possessions. "You Can't Take It With You" is not just the title of a famous play, it speaks volumes about what our ultimate goals in life are today. No, I am not tossing my worldly possessions into the street. Francis is the ultimate answer to the question "will God provide?"

This is not a perfect film, but on par with the Mickey Rourke- Helena Bonham Carter film "Francesco," which covered the same lives. I will recommend "Brother Sun, Sister Moon," but with reservations. (* * * *) out of five stars.