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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.33:1 Standard
  • Italian Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • Exclusive new video interviews, conducted in 2004, with actress Isabella Rossellini, film historian Adriano Aprà, and film critic Father Virgilio Fantuzzi
  • The American-release prologue, situating the film in its historical context through paintings and frescoes

The Flowers of St. Francis


Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Roberto Rossellini
Starring: Nazario Gerardi, Severino Pisacane, Esposito Bonaventura, Aldo Fabrizi,
1950 | 87 Minutes | Licensor: Intramovies

Release Information
DVD | MSRP: $29.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #293
RLJ Entertainment

Release Date: August 23, 2005
Review Date: November 12, 2008

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SYNOPSIS

In a series of simple and joyous vignettes, director Roberto Rossellini and co-writer Federico Fellini lovingly convey the universal teachings of the People's Saint: humility, compassion, faith, and sacrifice. Gorgeously photographed to evoke the medieval paintings of Saint Francis's time, and cast with monks from the Nocera Inferiore Monastery, The Flowers of St. Francis is a timeless and moving portrait of the search for spiritual enlightenment.

Forum members rate this film 8.4/10

 

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PICTURE

The Flowers of St. Francis is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this dual-layer disc. The image looks quite good overall presenting a consistently sharp and detailed picture. Contrast is strong, presenting wonderful grays and nice, deep blacks. There is nothing in the way of digital artifacts and the image looks quite smooth.

The print has minimal issues. There are tiny, thin scratches that rain through most of the film but they are barely noticeable. A few blotches show up in spots but the damage is surprisingly minimal, either those responsible for the restoration got their hands on a near-pristine print or they cleaned it up substantially. In the end it’s surprisingly a wonderful looking transfer.

7/10

All DVD screen captures are presented in their original size from the source disc. Images have been compressed slightly to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

Criterion presents the original Italian soundtrack in Dolby Digital 1.0 mono and unfortunately it’s a bit of a mess. Distortion is pretty heavy throughout the film, and something tells me it has more to do with the source. Voices are fairly flat and hollow, maybe related to the fact the film’s dialogue was looped in post-production, as mentioned in the supplements (at times, despite the majority of the film taking place outside, it does obviously sound like the voices were recorded indoors.) The music, though, is a big mess, coming off incredibly harsh and distorted. The film depends more on its visuals but its use of sound does also play significant importance to the scenes in the film so this is a little disappointing.

4/10

SUPPLEMENTS

This is a smaller, lower-tier release so I wasn’t expecting much in the way of supplements, yet I was rather thrilled with what we’re given here. There may not be much here when compared to some of Criterion’s bigger releases but the supplements still manage to offer a rather satisfying analysis of the film.

First is an interview with Isabella Rossellini, running 16-minutes and presented in anamorphic widescreen. She covers quite a bit in the short time, discussing her father and his work, Flowers of St. Francis in particular, and gets into the feeling in Italy after the war and filmmaking during this time. She talks about the themes in the film and her father’s other films, his filmmaking techniques, working with both professional actors and non-actors, and his working relationship with Federico Fellini. She’s very thorough and a rather engaging interview subject and it’s almost a shame it’s not longer.

The next interview is with film historian Adriano Aprá, running 18-minutes and presented in a standard aspect ratio. He brings up Rossellini’s affair with Ingrid Bergman and how Flowers seemed to have been made by Rossellini as a way to get away from the tabloid scandal from that. He looks into the episodic nature of the film, the collaboration between Fellini and Rossellini on this film and others, how the death of his son influenced his later works, making them more introspective, and his use of non-actors. He looks at his favourite episode in the film, even giving a great analysis of the two key characters, Genepro and Giovanni. He also brings up a deleted sequence that was cut at the last minute (with a few stills shown) and talks about the original prologue (found elsewhere as a supplement on this release.) Very thorough and informative interview, almost making up for the lack of a commentary.

The final interview is with Father Virgilio Fantuzzi, and is the shortest of the three, running 12-minutes. It’s also presented in a standard aspect ratio. This interview isn’t as fulfilling as the others but offers a few interesting tidbits as Fantuzzi reflects on his discussions with Rossellini, including his satisfaction of having presented St. Francis as an ordinary person (which divided some of the film’s audiences) and an anecdote about how Rossellini watched the film with the future Pope John Paul II. He also talks about filmmaking and the church (film being an art form the church hasn’t completely accepted much to his disappointment) and a brief look at religion in Rossellini’s films. It’s a decent interview but it’s almost like Fantuzzi is holding back, only lightly touching on the subjects he brings up.

The English Prologue has also been included as a supplement. When it originally premiered at the Venice Film Festival The Flowers of St. Francis included a prologue that situated the film historically and gives brief explanation of the Franciscan faith while it played over shots of Giotto frescoes. The original Italian prologue has disappeared but an English version of it was tacked onto the beginning of the American version of the film, which is where this clip is from. Nice inclusion and I’m happy Criterion was able to at least recover this version.

The interviews as a whole offer quite a bit in information, but the crowning touch on the release is the thick booklet, a 32-page one loaded with quite a few items. There is an essay on the film by Peter Brunette, which briefly gets into the scandal involving Rossellini and Bergman, and then offers a rather nice little examination of the film and its themes and narrative. There is a note by Rossellini called “The Message of The Flowers of St. Francis” where he points out he was trying to bring out the “merrier” aspects of the Franciscan faith. He also mentions the prologue, suggesting it should still be in the film. There is also a “Note on the Film Versions” which offers a description on the Italian version and shorter American version (which interestingly cut out the leper sequence along with the “perfect joy” sequence) and more information on the original prologue. You’ll also find a letter from critic Andre Bazin to editor Guido Aristarco defending Rossellini after Aristarco criticized the filmmaker for dumping his neorealist roots and “turning inward”. It offers an interesting look at the different types of filmmaking and Rossellini’s work. Finally there is a short excerpt from an interview with Rossellini performed by Victoria Schultz, which focuses on The Flowers of St. Francis including how Rossellini came up with the idea for the film, working with his non professional actors, specifically a beggar who played Giovanni, and Fellini’s role in the film. As a whole this is one of Criterion’s more satisfying booklets and is well worth reading.

While a commentary would have been nice to have the interviews and the booklet provide a lot of information about the film and its director. It’s a small collection, but it’s informative and feels fairly complete in its analysis of the film.

7/10

CLOSING

This release is actually a bit of a deal. The audio is disappointing but the image does make up for this aspect. And while the supplements are not plentiful (and I still feel a commentary may have been called for here) they are satisfying, the rather thick booklet sealing the deal. An easy recommendation.


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