Mickey Rourke & St. Francis
When I heard that The Wrestler (featuring Mickey Rourke as the eponymous lead) had just come out on DVD, it triggered a memory. An Italian friend of mine had urged me to see the 1989 film by Liliana Cavani called Francesco. And yes, it stars Rourke as…St. Francis (and Helena Bonham Carter as Clare).
I had put Francesco in my Netflix queue but had postponed watching it for months. I was pretty sure that it would be awful, that Rourke would come off rather like John Wayne in The Greatest Story Ever Told–you know, where the Duke utters the centurion’s line at the crucifixion “Truly, this man was the Son of God” in that unmistakable drawl.
I mean, bad boy Mickey as il poverello? 9 1/2 Weeks Mickey?
But the DVD release of The Wrestler (which I haven’t seen yet) jogged my memory and I moved Francesco to the top of my queue.
Lo and behold, it turns out to be a pretty good film, at least through the first two thirds (it loses its way at that point, alas).
There are many cinematically awkward moments and strange diversions from the historical record in the film (e.g., Francis is converted by reading an illicit translation of the Gospels into the vernacular–Francis as William Tyndale?).
But there’s also much to like. Despite his physical brawniness, Rourke delivers most of his lines in mumbled whispers–and I buy it.
There are at least a dozen moments when something very beautiful and true is captured, particularly in the early scenes when Francis is attracting followers. At one point he movingly embraces a painted crucifix–and it works. Then there’s a moment when Francis gets dunked in a public fountain, followed by his first two followers deliberately jumping into that fountain, that has the aura of a baptism about it. Or take the scene when he is out on the plain confronted by many angry, alienated followers, a cardinal, and a bishop–and begins to rub his face with dirt and grass, only to be tenderly embraced by those prelates.
I could go on.
I sometimes wonder if an actor is affected by a role he or she has played. Rourke is looking pretty ravaged these days–the legacy of that bad boy lifestyle? Does he ever remember that good-time boy Bernardone?
Maybe, just maybe, when I see The Wrestler I’ll find strange parallels with his depiction of the little man from Assisi.