Thursday, September 17, 2015

Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1972)

Just so you know, I prefer the church with the more naked Jesus. There are three churches in director Franco Zeffirelli's film about St. Francis, if you include the Vatican. And as I said, the less clothing encumbered church is definitely the best.

"Brother Sun, Sister Moon" was released in 1972, which puts it in the heart of the sixties (which, of course, are best calculated as beginning in 1963 at JFK's assassination to Nixon's resignation in 1974), the hippie era. The story of Francis of Assisi returning from war and renouncing his father's materialism for a life of nature, peace and spirituality certainly was tailor made for the Flower and Jesus People. From what I can tell, Zeffirelli doesn't stray too far from the story of the saint who was born in 1181 (or 1182) and died at the age of 44 in 1226. Francis' life also fits well in this month's theme of Rebel Youths (even if his rebellion was of a more positive brand than most).

As always though, we are here to evaluate the churches found in the film, not the film itself.

The first church we encounter in the film is the church of Assisi, attended by Francis' father, Pietro. Pietro is quite distressed that Francis doesn't initially return to church when he returns from the war. Pietro has a chummy relationship with the priests in the church, apparently supplying the clergy with silk for their fine robes from his prosperous textile works.

The crucifix above the altar in the church depicts Jesus wearing a crown of jewels and fine robes. This is a little off from the Biblical testimony that has Jesus on the cross wearing a crown of thorns and no clothes at all, but I'm sure if you're wearing a really sweet silk robe as a member of the clergy, having your wall Jesus with an equally sweet robe makes for more comfortable worship.

Also in this church, the clergy and the rich have the good seats in the front of the sanctuary and the poor stand in the back. All of this is in direct contradiction of James 2 which says the rich should not be shown favoritism. Francis, upon returning to the church, recognizes its hypocrisy. He renounces his father's wealth, ridding himself of everything from his earthly father including the clothes he was wearing (this streaking was the main thing I remembered from seeing the film as a teen). The naked Francis says he is born again. A priest tries to cover him with a fine robe, but Francis shares the robe with a poor man.

Francis begins a new order of brothers who take vows of poverty and chastity and seek to serve the poor. They rebuild a church in ruins, St. Mary of the Angels. This church ministers to the poor, who are given honor and affection. The crucifix in this church displays a Jesus whose garb is more Biblically accurate.

When Francis and his brothers encounter persecution, they decide to go to Rome to seek the blessing of Pope Innocent III for their order. On entering the Vatican, Francis encounters wealth more opulent than even his rich father possessed, but Francis doesn't judge, at this time being submissive to the authority of the church.

When Francis first approaches the Pope, he reads from a formal, legal request for recognition of his order that has been prepared for him. He abandons the reading and then goes to reciting the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount is greeted by cries of "Blasphemy!" by some in the room.

But the Pope is moved by the words of Christ spoken through Francis, giving him blessing and even kissing his feet. (One should have expected the Pope to do the right thing, as he is played by Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Ratings for the three Movie Churches:
Francis' father's church - one steeple

The Holy Father's church - two steeples

Francis's church - four steeples

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