A joyfully Franciscan view of Catholic life, inspired by St. Clare (Santa Chiara) of Assisi!

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Chiara Offreduccio (St. Clare) was born in 1194. It is said that when her mother had Chiara in her womb, an angel appeared to her and said, "your child will be a light that will illuminate the world!" Hence, her mother named the child Chiara, which means "light. As G.K. Chesterton put it, St. Clare was a romantic figure just like Juliet was. However, instead of running away from her family in order to be with an earthly man, Clare gave up everything and ran away from her family for the love of her Savior!

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Chiara Countdown: Critique of Clare's Role in "Brother Sun, Sister Moon"

I mentioned a few posts back that I’d do a review of the 1972 film “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” (“Fratello Sole, Sorella Luna”)….but I was wrong. Not only will there be a review, but I’ve decided to do two reviews! This review will be a critique of how the film depicts Clare, and around the Feast of St. Francis, I’ll do a much lengthier review that focuses on the film’s portrayal of the early life of Francis.

The bottom line is that for me, this movie is sort of like eating cotton candy….it’s not very substantial, but eating it puts you in a light-hearted mood. Thus, when I first saw the movie, I liked it. I even hosted a screening of the film last October on St. Francis Day. Honestly, only about three people showed up, even with the free pizza- it’s true that most of the Catholics that I’ve met don’t really like the movie. In fact, nearly all of the Franciscans that I’ve ever met in person can’t stand the movie!

For instance, I’ll never forget when I went on retreat with the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration last year and I mentioned that I liked the movie. One of the Sisters- a truly spiritually beautiful and vibrant woman- vehemently protested- “Sorry to diss your movie,” she said, “but ‘Brother Sun, Sister Moon’ is a total hippie flick.” Much to my amusement, she then went on to do impressions of the way the film portrays Francis and Clare- “Holy Father Francis is like ‘peeeeeeaaaccce, man,’ in the movie” (she waved a ‘peace’ sign with her fingers as she said it). “Holy Mother Clare is a hyperactive flower-child who’s like, ‘wheeeeeeee!!!!’” she said, as she flailed her arms up in the air. I thought it was hilarious. Also, the thing is……I agreed with her. But like I said, the film is cotton candy.

Judi Bowker is the actress who plays Clare, and according to the International Movie Database, “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” was her acting debut. The only other movie with Ms. Bowker that I’ve seen is “In This House of Brede,” in which she plays a young Benedictine nun- her performance in that movie is about as pleasant as hearing fingernails screech against a blackboard….you can read my review of that movie here. Judi Bowker does a much better job in “Brother Sun, Sister Moon”- that is, she’s very convincing as a flighty teenager. However, if Franco Zefirelli ever completes his second film about St. Francis’ later years, Judi Bowker would be completely inadequate for the role. Also, I’m glad that “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” doesn’t delve into Clare’s actual discernment process, because I don’t think that Ms. Bowker would have done a very good job of portraying Clare’s more thoughtful and spiritual personality.

A. What I Like About the Movie’s Portrayal of Clare

· She’s blonde (not that I’m biased or anything!)

· The movie does a very good job at establishing that the relationship between Clare and St. Francis was platonic. As a contrast, I’ve seen a documentary on St. Clare that I bought at a traditional Catholic bookstore. I won’t bother providing you with the actual title of the documentary, but I had a major problem with it because one of the narrators implied that Francis and Clare were sexually attracted to each other (read this post if you want to know my opinion on that ludicrous claim). Thus, “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” portrays Clare as a young girl who falls in love with the ideals of Francis and his way of life, rather than the man himself. For instance, when she makes the decision to join Francis’ movement, she joyfully paraphrases the “Prayer of St. Francis”: ‘Where there is hatred, I want to sow love. Where there is sadness, let me show joy!’ Whether or not the film accurately shows Clare as subsequently doing that, the real St. Clare certainly showed joy and love to the world!

· The director, Franco Zeffirelli, effectively uses beautiful imagery during the scenes that involve Clare. Since Clare’s name means “light,” Zeffirelli associates her with brightness and beauty- the first time that she appears on screen, Clare is running through a field of lilies. In another scene, Clare is standing in front of a lovely waterfall. In her final scene, Clare is shown holding a beautiful white lamb in her arms; perhaps this is a foreshadowing of later on in Clare’s life when she would hold in her arms the Blessed Sacrament (the Lamb of God).

· In this movie, Clare is the first person who truly understands Francis’ conversion. Her understanding and support of Francis is what gives him the strength to continue in his mission- a role that Clare would play for the rest of her life.

B. What I Don’t Like about how Clare is Presented in this Movie

. “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” is in no way an accurate portrayal of the life of St. Clare. In the movie, Clare is a peasant girl; Francis’ father remarks, “Clare isn’t much of a catch…her father can’t even give enough dowry to pay for a wedding.” Not that it really matters all that much whether Clare was poor before her conversion, but it’s completely untrue! Clare Offreduccio’s noble family was one of the wealthiest dynasties in Italy.

. Probably the biggest problem that I have with this movie is the inaccurate way in which it portrays the way Clare joined Francis and his followers. In the film, Clare joyfully runs towards Francis in broad daylight and tells him that she wants to join him. He cuts off her hair in the middle of the day as well. Also, the film doesn’t even indicate that Clare had to literally run away from her family in order to join Francis. The way that it really happened back in 1212 was much more dramatic…..Clare had to sneak out of a side door in her family’s castle in the middle of the night, and ran through the dark forest in order to meet Francis and his followers who were carrying torches. I guess it just would have taken too much screen time to show the way Clare’s investiture really happened, and it would have taken the focus off of Francis.

. After Clare’s conversion, the film shows her as being very active, rather than cloistered. According to actual events, Francis immediately took her to live with Benedictine nuns for a while before he brought her back to San Damiano. I’m honestly not sure how long is was before Clare took a vow of enclosure, but the film seems to indicate that her vocation was as an active sister.

. We never get to see Clare in any kind of habit! After her conversion, she pretty much wears the same clothes that she was wearing before, only with a headscarf to cover her shorn head.

C. The Bottom Line

In all honesty, Clare has a very small role in “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” and is a very flat character. Zefirelli merely uses her as an illustrative device in order to show that both men and women were drawn to Francis’ new perspective on and way of living life. Moreover, it’s nice that Clare’s major role is to serve as the strongest supporter of Francis’ movement. While there are many inaccuracies about Clare’s conversion, Zeffirelli doesn’t seem to have a revisionist agenda or intend to disrespect her; he avoids presenting things as they really happened for the sake of artistic consistency and in order to keep the focus on Francis. However, if anyone wants to get together and write a good screenplay that delves into St. Clare’s life, let me know!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had bought the film Brother Sun Sister Moon after discovering your wonderful site, and after watching it I must admit I was rather dissapointed. "Hippi flick" were the exact words that came to my mind....I think of peaceful, rather dazed singing and flower children. The movie was definitely more amusing in a light-hearted way, rather than an inspiring portrayal of the holy saints.

12:07 AM  
Anonymous brother lesser said...

How ironic that I just finished watching it myself. it had to be "borrowed" from another library (I can't find it locally.)

My first inclination was to pick out all the historical inaccuracies, and the fact Francis was portrayed as a flake.

I can only imagine what an updted version might contain if it had a great director, John Michael Talbot or John Debney doing the music, and having a Franciscan Friar as a Technical Adviser.

But alas, life is not perfect!

11:38 AM  
Blogger Chiara said...

Brother Lesser,

Thanks for your comment! I agree with you that the Donovon music in "Brother Sun, Sister Moon" is pretty lousy....However, if you have ITUNES, type in "Riz Ortolani" into the music store search engine and the ORIGINAL soundtrack for movie comes up. Yep, that's right- Zeffirelli had a classical composer make music for the film, but Paramount thought that the score wouldn't appeal to young American audiences, so they hired John Donovon to make up meaningless ditties about flowers and sunshine. However, the original Riz Ortolani soundtrack is GORGEOUS...especially the songs where Chiara appears!

7:56 PM  
Blogger Kelly Joyce Neff said...

Hello Chiara!
Your review rocks! I agree with all of it.
Blessings to you as we prepare for beloved Mother Clare's feast!

12:47 AM  
Blogger Kelly Joyce Neff said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12:48 AM  

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