The Flowers of St. Francis (1950)

The Flowers of St. Francis taps into another one of my bizarre fantasy. While most men probably have dreams of power, wealth and fame, I’ve always had a strange desire to be a monk. Something about the simple lifestyle, the hours spend alone with ones thoughts and the fashionable, yet simple robes entice me more than the idea of being the next Charlie Sheen.

For the band of brothers who follow St. Francis, it’s a life filled with the struggle and hardship of everyday life. The film opens with the band seeking, and failing to find, shelter from the rain. And yet, in spite of it all, they find joy, bliss and humor in their meager lives, simple surroundings and strange calling.

The film is composed of a handful of tiny vignettes which have no more relation to each other than the fact they happen to the same group of people. However, as each one unfolds, the film subtly crafts each one into an tale that also forms a compelling lesson. I hesitate to call them sermons, because these tales aren’t told as much as they gradually develop and grow to the penultimate truth.

And the truths they reach are full of the dense kind of theological ponderings which are still struggled over and discussed on end today. There is so much rich thematic depth to the situations, stories and speeches that compose the film that it’s hard to take it all in and process it upon a first viewing.

Yet the film is not all serious religious ponderings. A good portion of the film is laced with dark humor. One entire tale revolves around a priest getting beaten within an inch of his life and it’s played as a slapstick comedy which descends into one of the funniest and most ridiculous scenes I’ve ever seen in a film.

It’s the lighthearted tone and the films ability to not take itself too serious that gives the characters a warmth and humanity that reminds us that despite their lofty, sacred calling, they are very much rooted to the earth, just as prone to the laws of gravity and the necessity of nature that they too partake in the grand comedy of life.

It’s also a film of great humility. As the film progresses, just about every brother is forced to face some sort of humiliation or trial that belittles them. There is little room for pride or arrogance when surrounded in such a world that constantly drags them down lower and lower.

Some might find that depressing. Some might even find the plight of the brothers and their actions completely misguided. But there’s beauty in their sacrifice, grace in their humility and transcendence in their reflection. For here are men who have found true happiness.

© 2011 James Blake Ewing