The beginning of the thirteenth century, the town of Assisi in Italian Umbria. The son of a rich merchant, Francesco Bernardone, comes back ill from war. In his delirium, he goes back in his memories to the days when he spent time on parties and carnal pleasures. Yet, the shadow of the cross that he sees in fever brings an end to his old life. The armor which he calls “my death mask” appears to be his final clothing of the old human. He slowly recovers, but after the illness there is not the Francesco that was known to everybody any longer. Instead of spending hours in taverns, he spends them on meadows, instead of drinking, he meditates the beauty of God’s creatures. Once, he encounters a ruined little church. There, from the old cross, Christ changes his life forever. Francesco renounces the riches, his family and starts to rebuild the Church as “il Poverello – the poorest of the poor.” Soon, he gathers many people who are willingly built into a powerful new Spiritual Temple.
My favorite movie of all time!
Being an admirer of Francis of Assisi, I’ve seen several films which attempt to portray his life. This is the only one, in my opinion, which successfully captures the incredible SPIRIT of the man. It’s a movie to experience with the heart rather than the head. It has made a lasting impact on my own faith and spirituality since I first saw it in Italy in the early eighties.
The Italian version of ‘Fratello Sole, Sorella Luna’ is edited differently and has the beginning scenes in an order slightly different from the English version.
Note: It’s helpful to know something about the life of Saint Francis before viewing the film. Since it centers on his spiritual rebirth in Christ, it’s rather sparse in other historical details of his life. Zefirelli assumes that the viewer already knows these — as most Italians would. For example, when Francis first stands in silence and awe before the crucifix in the ruined church of San Damiano, Zefirelli assumes you know that this is the moment of Francis’ conversion, that this is when Francis first heard Christ say, “Rebuild my church.”