10 December 2012

Waiting for God to Show Up Seeing a Good Story Instead The Flowers of St. Francis

I have a friend who regularly tells stories from his day.  Often I wait for a dramatic conclusion or a point. But usually the story just dies a natural death with no denouement and no lesson learned. Merely a simple slice of everyday life. Often these stories reflect a kind act or a minor revelation of character. But just as often there is seemingly nothing to them. But I indulge these stories because he is a friend and because in their simplicity and the straight forward fashion in which they are offered comes a kind of comfort. So much of life is comprised of the quite ordinary that defy any attempts to provide meaning -- should one be foolhardy enough to try. Things happen. An errand is run. A walk is taken. A task is carried out. An acquaintance is greeted. Nothing to see here. Just move along. And so we do. The recounting of the mundane is not pointless if offered genuinely and without embellishment.

There is an element of this in a Robert Rosselilni film called The Flowers of St. Francis (1950). The first time I watched it some months ago I was disappointed having made the huge mistake of awaiting some dramatic moment or some profound insight. There seemed little point to these tales of Francis of Assisi, the Italian monk of the 12th century. Like much of Rossellini's earlier work it was a joy to look at and had a strong sense of realism having been shot on location sans professional actors (in this case actual monks played monks). But I was waiting for god to show up or at least a miracle to show some rascally sinners. At the very least I expected a profound point to be made.

Be careful what you look for you may be missing something else.

I gave the film another try yesterday. Who knows what compels one to give a film a second chance. But I did and am glad of it.

There was Francis leading his charges through a rainstorm back to their shelter which had been usurped by a nasty old cuss. In another film the squatter would have been given what for. Here the monks yielded their spot being told by Francis that they should take satisfaction in having given another protection from the elements. Later we see Francis and company building new digs. We see them take in an old fool who no one else wants. We see Francis embrace a leper he encounters. We see them given a large recently deceased pig and promptly pass the meat to the poor. We see Fra Ginapro try to cook two weeks worth of food in one go (to save time) and later we see him nearly butchered by a tyrant. We see a lot of Francis and his soft smile offer stern lessons on charity and following god's will. There is none of the religious intolerance and bigotry that has been such a part and parcel of so many manifestations of christianity over the millennia. There is a constant concern for the plight of the needy.

The Flowers of St. Francis can be interpreted as christian propaganda but I feel it is far less so than a film like It's a Wonderful Life (1946) with its angels and prayers being answered. As a rabid non believer I appreciated it for the wonderful episodic tellings of humility. Stark real simple humble men who live their principles. They are believers. Their belief is not revealed through words but deeds. Unspectacular. Unvarnished. Uncomplicated. The polar opposite of the biblical epics that ate up hours of my youth when I wanted to be playing baseball.

Simplicity as art.

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