National Catholic Register

Arts & Entertainment

Video Picks & Passes

BY Steven D. Greydanus

June 11-17, 2006 Issue | Posted 6/12/06 at 10:00 AM


St. Anthony of Padua


St. Francis of Assisi


Padre Pio: Miracle Man


Content advisory:

St. 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 or call (800) 651-1531.