Brother Sun, Sister Moon
The Story of a Humble Christian
Save the Tiger
Even supposing that you have sufficient perspicacity and science to know everything, suppose that you are familiar with every language, the course of the stars and all else, what is there in all this to boast of? One single demon knows more about any of them than all mortal men together. Yet there is one thing of which the Devil is incapable and which constitutes the glory of man: loyalty to God.
Poor Zeffirelli. His sentimental paean to Francis of Assisi appears to be arriving at a bad moment. The hippies have disappeared, the flower children are barely a memory, the Woodstock phenomenon which blew every square’s mind a few years ago at theaters across the land can’t make it today on TV, the Jesus freaks are the spiritual nasties, and the only heavy changes we’re experiencing are conformism and country club sophistry—the Smilin’ Jack folderol of the Fifties.
Graham Faulkner, a winsome newcomer who could probably have been much happier as one of the Monkees, presents the young Francis as a sort of super-straight who returns home from the horrors of the Crusades a disillusioned anti-establishmentarian seeking answers. The parallel we are expected to draw between the Crusades and Nam; the color shots of medieval squalor and unctuous ecclesiastical splendor; the strawberry fields over which the wanton Francis jubilantly bounds after a Botticellian beauty whose locks ripple in the wind; the liberating scene where Francis strips in the town square, as nude as the kids used to be on the meadow at Central Park, announcing that henceforth he shall live “in the spirit,” without clothes and without possessions, “without those shadows we call our servants,” as free as Christ, as free as the apostles—surely these gamy aspects of Brother Sun, Sister Moon suggest less a hagiography of a legendary thirteenth-century figure than a Zeffirelli fantasy about purity, about poverty; about grooving with nature and nature’s ways, a fantasy; one assumes, maculately conceived after a transatlantic Zeffirelli conversion to the money-making tribal culture of Hair or God spell or Jesus Christ Superstar. An unchristian assumption only aggravated, alas, by the pastoral ditties of Donovan on the track:
Birds are singing sweet and low
From the trees that gently blow….
If you want to live life free
Take your time, go slowly….1
Zeffirelli has never had the assertiveness and voluptuous austerity of Visconti, his mentor. What he does have—and has in abundance—is a rapt eye for fetching sets, gorgeous clothes, lambent Umbrian faces, and here and there, as the camera pans in and out of Assisi, a touch of the devotional intimacy, the softness and solidity of the paintings of Giotto or Cimabue—all these, that is, as one might imagine them in a fashion spread in Harper’s Bazaar.
“One shows off what one has.” So says Mme de Stael, who would always make sure to show off her bare beautiful arms at her salon—and that’s pretty much Franco Zeffirelli’s philosophy too. In…
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