DVD Picks & Passes 11.23.2008

Clare and Francis (2007) - Pick

John XXIII: The Pope of Peace (2002) - Pick

New on DVD, Ignatius Press has added two new Italian TV miniseries to their growing library of saint (and beatified) biopics from Lux Vide and other companies.

Clare and Francis is Ignatius’ second Italian import on Francis of Assisi, and it’s the better of the two — not least for its emphasis on St. Clare as well as St. Francis.

Like the earlier St. Francis of Assisi, Clare and Francis shows Francis as genuinely joyful, charismatic and devoted to the Church. Also like the earlier film, Clare and Francis is less successful with Francis’s earlier life; there is little sign of the irrepressible spirit that made Francis popular even in prison. Yet, the post-conversion Francis — exuberant, peaceful, joyful in humility — is among the most persuasive I’ve seen. Clare is also well portrayed: pious and self-possessed even in her youth.

The film covers several episodes missing in other Francis films, including the wolf of Gubbio, Nativity scene and his encounter with the Sultan. Rossellini’s lovely Flowers of St. Francis has no rival as the definitive portrayal of the Franciscan spirit, but Clare and Francis is probably the best biopic of the saints of Assisi.

John XXIII: The Pope of Peace stars an effective, believable Edward Asner as “the good Pope,” following Angelo Roncalli from his Venice patriarchate to the See of Peter, with flashbacks narrating his life from an impoverished childhood to his service as secretary to the bishop of Bergamo, the war, and service in Bulgaria and Turkey.

Against a backdrop of Roman intrigue, John XXIII emphasizes Roncalli’s perceived status as a simple pastor and an “interim pope” who surprised would-be Vatican handlers by traveling, making visits to prisoners in Regina Caeli and orphans at Christmas, and finally issuing a stunning call for a great council of the Church.

The miniseries emphasizes the populist, social-justice, aggiornamento (updating) side of the “good Pope” over his traditional piety and solid orthodoxy. Perhaps to compensate, the disc includes an interview with Catholic historian James Hitchcock by Father Mitch Pacwa, offering a balanced assessment of Pope John’s mission and pastoral style.

Both discs come with 16-page booklets by Tim Drake and Carl Olsen with background material, study and discussion aids and resource lists.

Both discs also come with technical caveats. Though shot for TV, both were filmed in widescreen but are presented on DVD in letterboxed format rather than anamorphic widescreen, which doesn’t look good on widescreen TV.

Both come with Italian language tracks and English subtitles, but the menus aren’t very friendly (language and subtitle options must be separately chosen, and you always have to go back to the main menu).

The Clare and Francis Italian track has a metallic echoey sound, and the audio on the John XXIII Hitchcock/Pacwa interview is badly distorted.

Caveats aside, both discs are worthwhile and edifying portraits of pivotal figures in Church history and well worth getting.

CONTENT ADVISORY Clare and Francis: Mild violence; a few unpleasant images of leprosy. Pope John XXIII: Nothing problematic. Both fine family viewing.