Stunning visual metaphors irradiate this 1972 production about a man who gave up everything -- wealth, rank, and the pleasures of the flesh -- to wear rags, beg food, and seek God in a leper or a field of flowers. More a poem than a biography, the film exalts Francis of Assisi's spirit and message while ignoring the complexity of his personality. For this reason, critics who reviewed the film after its debut sometimes traduced it as pretty fluff, lacking substance. However, as a cinematographic poem, the film succeeds brilliantly, juxtaposing symbols of worldly riches -- silks, jewels, and scepters of power -- with symbols of spiritual riches -- shoeless friars chanting for joy, a meadow aflame with Umbrian colors, and a trusting sparrow perching on the hand of Francis. In one memorable scene, Francis strips bare before the steps of a cathedral while townspeople and splendidly robed churchmen look on in bemusement. It is director Franco Zeffirelli's way of demonstrating the depth of Francis' commitment to unadorned devotion to God. It is true that Zeffirelli trains his lens on Francis the Simple rather than Francis the Complex, the soldier, writer, mystic, reformer, traveler, and dynamic leader who engineered a revolution in religious thought. But probing psychoanalysis would be out of place in this film. It is like a song, not unlike the one Francis himself wrote in 1225: "Praise to thee, my Lord, for all thy creatures -- above all Brother Sun Who brings us the day and lends us his light." Graham Faulkner is convincing as the boyish, almost childlike, Francis. And Alec Guinness is superb as Pope Innocent III, a role he lobbied for before converting to Catholicism.
by Mike Cummings review