Blu-ray Review: Francesco (1989)


For the 1995 commemoration of the 100th year of cinema the Pontifical Council for Social Communications created three lists of  “Some Important Films.” Francesco was among those included on the list titled “Religion.” Clearly that makes sense but it well could have gone on the “Art” list.

Francesco (1989)

Francesco (1989, Film Movement Classics)

This is the second film I had the privilege to see thanks to Film Movement’s new line of repertory releases referred to simply as Film Movement Classics. Perhaps more so than The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe Francesco shows the worth of repertory lines that bring overlooked gems to the fore anew. There really cannot be enough outlets such as these available.

Francesco tells a story of the life of St. Francis of Assisi but this is no rote cradle-to-grave tale but rather remains a fairly focused account of his spiritual awakening, the inception of his brotherhood, and the personal and theistic struggles he faces after having been granted permission from Pope Innocent III to formalize his order.

Yet there is a simple austerity in Francis’ ways, a kind and gentle nature, one that embraces and accepts all humanity and strives only to approximate himself to divinity and nature that makes this a tale that’s universally accessible, and not merely one for the devoutly religious. Aside from this necessary focus another of the film’s strengths is not falling into any divisive tactics and tells of the conflicts Francis faced with a respectable semblance of distance.

Francesco (Film Movement, 1989)

This ability to portray a man of God who preaches in a film that doesn’t preach to its audience is most admirable. Furthermore, Cavani’s cinematic stylings in this tale make this an engaging experience in purely aesthetic terms. The production design is rightly award-winning, the score from Vangelis, as per usual is a standout, and fits in an anachronistic way that should make Moroder jealous, and features a sensitive, soft-spoken and brilliant performance by Mickey Rourke in an unlikely and inspired bit of casting.

Also, noteworthy about this release is that it could be seen as definitive cut of the film. Not only has this film been unavailable in the US for many years but it is a new 133-minute version. This is a significant improvement on the original US release (104 minutes); and is reportedly a more disciplined, effective version than the 150-minute Italian release.

Francesco is a film I had not even heard of, much less seen, and one I was glad to have a gander at. I’m also thankful this is the first full version of St. Francis’ life I took in. While any one can identify with his naturalist tendencies and love of birds, this earnest devout portrayal; a man fighting peaceably for a belief in conducting oneself, he firmly believes can inspire all and I can see why he continues to have such a following.

Bonus Materials

Francesco (1989, Film Movement)

The bonus materials on this disc are a bit lacking compared to Film Movement Classic’s prior release, but there is still some good to be found.

The essays included are welcome. One is from the filmmaker Liliana Cavani on the unusual tale that to her to create her works on Francis, this one especially; and a take from critic Aaron Hillis, which fills in more background information.

Also included is a truncated press conference from Cannes, which almost would’ve been better off being omitted. It’s four minutes long, incomplete, and pack with overly-‘80s Rourke and the kinds of questions you would expect a Hollywood star like Rourke to get there.


Francesco (1989, Film Movement)

Francesco is a wonderfully re-presented title that should delight viewers for secular and holy reasons alike.

Rewind Review- Iron Man 2 (2010)

As those who know me, and if such a person exists, cyberstalk me, know I created this blog after writing on another site, which shall remain nameless, for a while. The point is, I have material sitting around waiting to be re-used on occasion I will re-post them here. Some of those articles or reviews may have been extemporaneous at the time but are slightly random now, hence the new title and little intro, regardless enjoy!

Iron Man 2 is the kind of sequel that has a lot to live up to. It comes on the heels of the wildly successful, aesthetically and financially, film from last year. When seeing this film two things make you wonder: first, did it come too fast, and second, is Shakespeare wrong and is there really something in a name as merely calling the film ‘2’ seems uninspired. What you get in this film is not a bad product but an indifferent one, a film most deserving of the moniker of ‘meh.’

What this film does afford its leading players is a chance to strut their stuff, in spite of the built-in limitations of their characters. For example, Tony Stark, as portrayed by Robert Downey, Jr., didn’t get much deeper or more fully realized in this film but what the material did allow was for Downey to flaunt his considerable talents, both dramatic and comedic. Similarly, Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer is hysterical and has his high point when be-bopping onto the stage at Stark Expo. He is quite good but he also is only ever established in this film as someone out to get Stark for business reasons. You get the impression there is more behind it but it’s never explored. Last but not least there’s Mickey Rourke who plays Ivan Vanko, again who does huge amounts with such limiting material. There is so much more to Ivan Vanko than the film lets on. However, all the film seeks is to establish what the motive is and not have us fully understand and feel said motive.

Much the same can be said of the all-star supporting cast which includes Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johanssen and Samuel L. Jackson. Each does what they can with minimally arcing storylines, none of which ever gets pronounced or explored enough to truly add significant depth to this film. The love interests are buried until the end, the running of Stark remains a buried but seemingly necessarily evil subplot. Even the political interventions and the possible proliferation of the Iron Man suit never seems like the stakes are high enough and doesn’t add to the tension like it should partially due to timing in the tale and partially due to execution.

Again not to say the film is uninteresting, poorly executed or not entertaining. It is well-done and interesting but not nearly as engaging and entertaining as it could be partially because the stakes seem lowered in this one and almost all subplots seem subjugated and nearly unnecessary encumbrances rather than necessary depth.

In the end, you walk out of this film just feeling like you watched another tale where a few key pieces were moved into place for the next film but you didn’t feel you learned too much about any of these people whom seemed much more alive the last time around.

Similarly, in a film where the stakes of all the ulterior storylines is lowered then it should come as no surprise that the climactic battle is somewhat anticlimactic. It is well-shot, edited and conceived but it’s just not terribly compelling and it could’ve been ratcheted up. The extra suits could’ve been disposed of quicker and it could’ve benefited from a villain monologue in that situation.

The CG in the film doesn’t particularly stand out in one way of another which is almost as high a compliment as you can pay a film in this day and age. So it definitely does not detract from the experience.

With all that said it does bear repeating that this is a good film. Based on its disparate elements it was, of course, not nearly as good as it could have been or as its predecessor. That being said it was well worth the watch and good escapist entertainment.