Director Franco Zeffirelli is often accused of sentimentality, and this 1973 film and its flower power sensibility plays right into that expectation. St. Francis of Assisi is presented as the original hippie, complete with trippy folk songs and a "love will conquer all" pseudo-philosophy that gets little cred in our more savvy and cynical day.
It's too bad Brother Sun, Sister Moon has that reputation, because there's much more to the film than that. If we're embarrassed by the movie's simplistic rejection of war and materialism, how much more uncomfortable we would be with St. Francis himself? As easy (and tempting) as it may be to discount Donovan's "get high on God" lyrics, it's much harder (but just as tempting) to try to dodge the words of Jesus that Francis constantly quotes: "You cannot serve both God and money!" Certain aspects of the gospel fly in the face of Western consumerism, which is often quick to criticize anyone naive enough to take Christ's words at face value. (Improbably, the script was co-written by '70s iconoclast Lina Wertmuller, who would go on to write Swept Away and Seven Beauties. Such knowledge lends a certain weight to Brother Sun's critique of bourgeois materialism: as wrong-headed as she was, Wertmuller was utterly serious about her radical leftist politics, and it's intriguing to think of her making common cause with St. Francis.)
It's easy to criticize the acting in Brother Sun, particularly that of Graham Faulkner in the lead role. Still, it's not so much a bad performance as it is reflective of its time. Four years earlier, Leonard Whiting did a similar turn in the title role of Zeffirelli's widely-praised Romeo and Juliet, complete with the requisite running-through-fields-of-flowers sequence, ...1
Already a CT subscriber? Log in for full digital access.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 65+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more