Paramount Studios presents
Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1972)
"When you went off to war, they said you were fine and intelligent. But now they say you are mad because you sing like the birds and you chase after butterflies and you look at flowers. I think you were mad before, not now."- Clare (Judi Bowker)
Stars: Graham Faulkner, Judi Bowker, Alec Guinness
Other Stars: Leigh Lawson, Kenneth Cranham, Michael Feust, Nicholas Willatt, Valentina Cortese, Lee Montague, John Sharp
Director: Franco Zeffirelli
MPAA Rating: PG for (violence, nude buttocks)
Run Time: 02h:00m:58s
Release Date: 2004-03-09
DVD ReviewWhen Franco Zeffirelli struck paydirt with his pretty tale of adolescent love, Romeo and Juliet, there was of course a clamor for more. The title of this followup suggests another romance, as does the lead casting of two doe-eyed youngsters. Surely many must have been disappointed on release to find that this was instead a tale of religious faith and renewal about St. Francis of Assisi.
Young Francesco (Graham Faulkner) returns home from the Crusades suffering a fever. He seems to be on the road to recovery when he has an epiphany while at Mass. Francesco decides to give away all of his possessions and live a Christ-like life as a beggar, working to rebuild the ruined chapel of St. Damiano. Before long, he has obtained a following of the poor, who find more appeal in his message of contempt for riches than the teachings of the opulent church. His friend Clare (Judi Bowker) becomes a member of Francesco's group, as do Bernardo (Leigh Lawson), Silvestro (Michael Feust), and Giocondo (Nicholas Willatt). Francesco comes under attack from Bishop Guido (John Sharp), and makes a pilgrimage to Rome to address Pope Innocent III (Alec Guinness), to find out the error of his ways.
As appropriate for a gentle subject, the film for the most part takes a gentle tone. However, there are some disturbing moments that make the PG rating well-deserved, particularly after Francesco tosses the property of his father (Lee Montague) out the window to the poor and dad reacts with a vicious beating. The photography is always quite attractive, with the high production values (especially in the Vatican sequences, thanks to the elaborate over-the-top costuming tastes of Danilo Donati) bringing the story to a vivid life. Surprisingly, given his reputation as a friend to birds and animals, there's very little interaction with them, except for one early sequence where Francesco wanders out onto a roof to try to commune with a small bird.
For the most part, Francesco's story is played out as an allegory for the late 1960s, emphasized by the opening shot of church towers that at first look like modern skyscrapers. The Crusades of course substitute for Vietnam, while Francesco drops out of the family business to become a hippie, living in a commune with the rest of his hippie friends, rejecting dad's materialism and warlike ways and determined to change society with peace, love, and understanding. The generation gap is also here in full force as a result. Endearingly, Zeffirelli doesn't wholeheartedly go for Francesco, since he's clearly clueless about reality, and seems to have no idea that his revolutionary ideas are completely anathema to the pomp-and-wealth-loving Church, but given the splendor of the Bishop and the Pope's court, it's hard to come to any other conclusion, especially since Faulkner plays Francesco as an ecstatic and visibly quite mad.
Although it takes a while to get going, and every now and then slows down to a stop for a drippy song by Donovan (given still more saccharine by the string-laden arrangements by Ken Thorne), there's still plenty of visual interest and at times a compelling story of belief and principle. Although Paramount is apparently using this release to capitalize on the audience for Mel Gibson's biblical gorefest, anyone looking for gobs of bloodshed here will be disappointed, as will those looking for another romantic tale.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B
|Aspect Ratio||1.85:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic widescreen picture generally looks pretty good, though particular shots have issues. Much of the film is shot with heavy lens filters or semi-visible gauze, rendering much of the picture a soft, hazy, and dreamlike character. Every now and then (especially on closeups) the fog lifts and excellent detail is visible. Some of the opticals and dissolves have a lot of dirt printed into the frame. At a few times there is some ringing on high-contrast items, but it's not consistent and thus seems to be compression-related rather than artifical edge enhancement. Such a soft picture needs a healthy bit rate, and Paramount comes through with nearly 8 Mbps dedicated to the video stream here. Overall, a very good representation of the film.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: 2.0 mono tracks are presented for both the original English and the French track. There are quite acceptable, with minimal hiss and noise, though no particular presence. The organ is missing very low bass information, but there is a surprising amount of bass for a mono track.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 13 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Layers Switch: 01h:01m:09s
Extras Review: This is very much a barebone release, which is fitting for the ascetic subject, but I'd still have liked a trailer and a bit more generous chaptering. I shall now go flog myself for my sinful thoughts.
Extras Grade: D-
Final CommentsSt. Francis gets religion in this nicely-transferred disc, though it's quite short of extras.
Mark Zimmer 2004-03-08