Brotherhood, A Life with Saint Francis: The joy and revolution of a saint
by Camillo De Marco
- Renaud Fély and Arnaud Louvet’s film about Saint Francis of Assisi and his friar friend and follower Elia da Cortona stars Elio Germano and Jérémie Renier
The joy in poverty and humility. This is what Saint Francis of Assisi preaches in the film Brotherhood, A Life with Saint Francis [+see also:
film profile], which is due to be released in Italy on 6 October by Parthénos and at the end of the year in France by Haut et Court. A co-production between France, Italy and Belgium by Æternam Films with MIR Cinematografica, Rai Cinema and Entre Chien et Loup, the film is directed by Renaud Fély and Arnaud Louvet, who also wrote the screenplay with Julie Peyr, in partnership with Elizabeth Dablemon. This is Fély’s second feature film after Pauline et François [+see also:
film profile], and is produced by Louvet, in his directorial debut here after working on a number of other productions (including Long Live the Bride [+see also:
interview: Ascanio Celestini
film profile] by Ascanio Celestini and Shun Li and the Poet [+see also:
interview: Andrea Segre
interview: Andrea Segre
film profile] by Andrea Segre).
The true protagonist of Brotherhood, A Life with Saint Francis is not however Saint Francis of Assisi, played by Elio Germano, but rather his friar friend and follower Elia da Cortona, played by a Jérémie Renier in a “state of grace”. It is this original point of view that characterises the film and sets it apart from works on the figure of Saint Francis of Assisi by Rossellini, Cavani and Zeffirelli. Here, it is the relationship between the two characters that the directors focus on to highlight the jarring differences between the two. Francis, with his purer than pure ideals that reach beyond earthly things, and Elia, who is devoted and spiritually driven but also willing to make compromises to reach his goals. With a delicate and minimalistic style of direction, Fély and Louvet compare two historical figures to sketch out a very human and relevant portrait of them.
It’s 1209, and Pope Innocent III has just refused to approve the ‘Order’ and legitimise the brotherhood that has formed around Francis. The future saint lives in absolute poverty alongside the needy, and is intolerant of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, adverse to control and compromise with Rome. “You can’t bargain with freedom”, he says to his friend Elia, who tries to convince him to make his document less ‘radical’ and save him from insinuations that he is a heretic. He confides in his friend and associate Clare (Alba Rohrwacher), saying: “they want a leader, but that will never be me”.
The differences between him and young Elia, who is from a powerful family and fresh from his studies in law, is clear to see. The man who went on to become an important politician and councillor to Frederick II, Duke of Swabia, left everything behind to live with Francis and help him to build a better world. He wants to tend a vegetable patch so he can give the destitute something to eat and ‘fight poverty’, but Francis’ other followers object, saying that they should be fighting wealth instead. But Elia is not one for the contemplative life. On the advice of Cardinal Ugolino (Olivier Gourmet) and taking advantage of Francis’ infirmity, Elia cancels the more ‘extreme’ references to the Gospel, which were very dear to Francis, himself, and manages to get the ‘Order’ approved. Francis accepts his role as intermediary but does not forgive Elia, who he orders not to follow him but to remain in Rome and represent the brotherhood before the ecclesiastical institutions, before returning to the poor. Elia returns to him years later in 1226, in the La Verna cave in Arezzo: Francis is at the end of his life and stigmata have appeared on his hands and feet.
(Translated from Italian)