Monday, November 29, 2010

Rossellini & the Bird Whisperer

Criterion Collection released a new edition, remastered and revived, of Rossellini's The Flowers of St. Francis. When I saw it at the library I grabbed it.
While the film is less magnificent than Open City or Il Messia, it is crisp, visually elegant, distinct, simple, making use of the richness in contrast and drama of black and white; an intended giving over to and joining with the impossible revolution Francis instigated. Something critics may have missed in their annoyance with the first half hour.

Even with cultural differences of era and gender, I must say, Claire and her band seem stilted, but what's new.

Included with the DVD is a chapbook of several essays about the film and an interview with Rossellini, in which he discusses how he came to make the movie. In part:

When I made Paisan a unit of the American Army gave me some help to make it. I got three German prisoners of war to play the roles of the Germans. We were in a little town in southern Italy and there was a guard for the prisoners. The guard disappeared one day and, as those Germans were prisoners of war and they were very conscious of it, they wanted to be guarded by somebody. They asked for help in a little convent of Franciscan monks. So they slept and ate there, came to work on the film and went back to the convent. That is how I discovered the convent and the Franciscans. I was very moved by their innocence. It was magnificent. A very wise old monk, Brother Raffaele, who was a servant, not a real priest, said he was a poet. I asked him what kind of poetry he was doing. He said, "I wrote a poem about a rose." I asked him to tell it to me. He closed his eyes and lifted his face toward the sky and said, "Oh, Rose!" And that was the whole poem. How can you have a better poem than that? It was also a sign of tremendous humility. I became very close friends with a number of the Franciscans and I thought of making a film about St. Francis.

From "Interview with Roberto Rossellini" by Victoria Schultz. First published in Film Culture, no. 52, 1971.

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