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BY Steven D. Greydanus
Anthony of Padua
Francis of Assisi
Padre Pio: Miracle Man
Anthony of Padua: Brief restrained
violence and self-flagellation; mildly disturbing dream sequences; a reference
to prostitution. St. Francis of Assisi: Battlefield
and other violence; brief non-explicit nudity. Padre Pio: Miracle Man: Some disturbing
images and sequences; references to misconduct by priests (and a brief apparent
instance of such). All three in Italian with subtitles.
A trio of recent Italian-language
Franciscan-themed biopics on the lives of three
saints has recently come to DVD in the United States thanks to two
different American distributors. This Tuesday is the feast day of the title
character of St. Anthony of Padua, the first feature film on the life of
the great saint, distributed by Ignatius Press. It depicts the struggles and
choices that led Anthony, inspired by the example of his contemporary, Francis
of Assisi, to join the new order. The Umberto Marino film depicts the young
Anthony — like Francis before him — clashing with his aristocratic father, who
expects his son to serve in the military. Fired up by Francis’s humility and
simplicity, Anthony agonizes over his pride and indecision, but eventually
finds peace and purpose in humble service to the poor.
St. Francis embraced the poor and
St. Anthony aided them, working to support those cruelly locked away in
debtor’s prison, eventually even instigating local authorities to abolish the
unjust laws imprisoning men for debt. Beautifully photographed on location in Spain, St. Anthony of Padua is a deeply moving
and inspiring tribute to the popular saint.
Of the other two films, both
distributed by Italian import specialist NoShame, the
first, St. Francis of Assisi, is a
mixed effort, with a worthwhile second half depicting Francis’ ministry
compensating for a flawed first half. Directed by Michele Soavi,
St. Francis of Assisi tells the story
of Francis’ life prior to his ministry in terms similar to other flawed St.
Francis biopics, including Franco Zeffirelli’s
hippie-dippy Brother Sun, Sister Moon
and Liliana Cavani’s just
plain bizarre Vatican-list film Francesco.
Yet starting with the scene in
which Francis strips off his clothes in response to his outraged father’s
bringing him before the bishop, St.
Francis of Assisi charts a different course. Unlike Cavani’s
Mickey Roarke, this Francis (Raoul
Bova) is genuinely joyful and charismatic. He’s also
devoted to the Church, the Mass and the sacraments. Though far from perfect, St. Francis of Assisi is a big
improvement over most other treatments.
More consistently edifying is Padre Pio:
Miracle Man, with its vivid portrait of the gruff, irascible stigmatist saint and mystic (superb Sergio Castellitto). Like many saint movies, the film approaches
its subject from the point of view of a skeptical outsider, a gruff, hostile
bishop who doesn’t believe in Pio’s miracles or
stigmata. Told in flashback from the saint’s last hours, the film has Pio recount his own life to the bishop, first under
cross-examination, then in a final confession.
From his childhood we see young
Francesco Forgione already haunted by the divine and
infernal sides of the spiritual world. Taking the name Pio,
the saint steadfastly follows his vocation despite overt diabolical attempts to
drive him from the priesthood. The contradictions of the saint’s piety,
humility and irascibility are nowhere more vividly combined than in a moment
when a layman, astonished by one of Pio’s frequent
miracles, blurts out, “Holy Mother, he’s a demon!” Pio
promptly whirls around and literally kicks the man in the rear — not because of
the affront to himself, but because “You blasphemed the Holy Mother!”
Note: Order St. Anthony of Padua from Ignatius Press
at ignatius.com or call (800) 651-1531.