Just watched the lovely restored version of Rosselini's "The Flowers of St Francis" (1950), co-scripted by Fellini. I believe it is Rosellini's own favorite work--with most of the cast being non-professional actors (actually monks!). It reminds one of Pasolini's "Gospel According to St Mathew." My favorite segment in the Rosselini film was the one with the tyrant Nicalaio and Br. Ginapro.
Beautifully shot film that presents vignettes from the life of Francis of Assisi that presents so-called Christian values of charity, sacrifice, and poverty. Mind you its also a group of men blindly following a self proclaimed vessel of God. One person's viewing could be a deeply religious experience allowing them to question the tenets of their own faith, but another's take may be the cult like aspects shown.
It was impossible for me not to wonder - what do you see if you are western and (at least culturally) Christian...? And is it not vastly different from what you would see if you were born into a foreign culture? Are those not a group of very strange men with masochistic tendencies, bizarre rituals, inexplicable acts of psychological self-immolation and above all an unnerving dedication to a nebulous master?
Rossellini's camera eye is the only I've encountered that seems perfect, by which I mean that his composition choices seem like the only ones possible for any given shot, by a logic that is as certain as that of mathematics but impossible to articulate. I can't think of another film that stands as a better rebuke to the empirical, science-inflected strain of film criticism so popular today.
Rossellini's structure and camera are perfect, while his subject is lacking. St Francis, a sincerly sensitive man refuses to do what he preaches. Asleep, he scorns his followers not to be idle and claims he is the most humble. He doesn't understand why a leper and homeowner rejects him, therefore calling them "evil." The real hero here is Brother Ginepro- a man who's real unselfishness ends a tyrants siege.
The essence of Franciscan spirituality that Rossellini sought to convey was how it blended a deep and heartfelt humility with self-effacing silliness. To read my full write-up on The Flowers of St. Francis: http://criterionreflections.blogspot.com/2009/12/flowers-of-st-francis-1950-293.html
I just saw this for the second (or third?) time and enjoyed it so much more. I guess I had to see some other Rossellini films to really enjoy the simplicity of this. The one gripe I used to have about it was that unlike, say, Andrei Rublev, we don't really see Francis "tested" as person. But the film is humble, like him, and Francis' tests come from simply humility and constant charity.
Let's say it wasn't as profound or transcendental as promised, and as my third Rossellini film after Rome, Open City and Voyage in Italy it was a bit of a let-down. Visually it's a beautiful film, and some segments are amazing, but as a whole it just feels average and unexciting.