The Flowers of St. Francis
(Francesco, giullare di dio)
Aldo Fabrizi, Arabella Lemaitre, Fra Nazario,
Cowritten by Fellini and opening with an epigram from St. Paul—“God chose the foolish things of this world to humiliate the learned, the weak to humiliate the strong”—this episodic tribute to the People’s Saint is constructed with crafty simplicity. Skipping through Umbrian fields in spring or slogging through frozen mud, the Franciscan brothers express the spiritual in the physical and faith through childish joy. They seem to inhabit an eternal present, until encounters with figures like the tyrant Nicolaio (Aldo Fabrizi, the only professional actor in the picture) place them in a medieval world of violence and chaos. Some advocates of neorealism attacked the film as a betrayal of leftist politics, but with the war in Europe still a recent memory, Rossellini’s endorsement of fools over other kinds of madmen had its own political meaning. Like the monks dizzily spinning until God shows them the way, The Flowers of St. Francis is a sublimely goofy, serious gesture.