Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5. Italy/West Germany, 1989. Karol Film, Royal Film, Rai 1, Istituto Luce-Italnoleggio Cinematografico. Story by Liliana Cavani, Screenplay by Liliana Cavani, Roberta Mazzoni. Cinematography by Ennio Guarnieri, Giuseppe Lanci. Produced by Roberta Cadringher, Giulio Scanni, Jost Steinbruchel. Music by Vangelis. Production Design by Danilo Donati. Costume Design by Danilo Donati. Film Editing by Gabriella Cristiani. Cannes Film Festival 1989.
Liliana Cavani films a story focused on St. Francis of Assissi for the second time in her career, this time landing somewhere between Jesus of Nazareth and The Last Temptation of Christ in the Religious Films As Stories of Real People genre. It’s nowhere near as controversial as Scorsese’s epic, though that film’s fresh notoriety would likely have discouraged distributors from taking this one on after its screening at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival. Its being a mixed bag of results could also be responsible, with Mickey Rourke awkwardly cast as the wealthy merchant’s son who is inspired to leave behind all worldly possessions and follow his love of god into the life of a poor ascetic. His soft, kind nature is debated by his friends whose flashbacks provide the majority of the action, all of them men with the exception of Helena Bonham Carter as the saint’s significant woman with whom he has no carnal relations. Cavani can’t really decide if she wants to find the real story beneath the Sunday School tale or pay tribute to the fable that has obviously moved her for much of her life, that of a man inspired to devote himself to kindness despite living in a harsh and unforgiving society; her returning to the subject in a 2014 TV movie speaks to the fact that she has yet to nail down her fascination with the subject. It doesn’t help that Rourke is sometimes powerfully vulnerable and at other times seems to have wandered onto a period film set and has no idea what is going on. Andréa Ferréol is terrific in a far too small part as his concerned mother.