The Flowers of St. Francis is a 1950 film directed by Roberto Rossellini and co-written by Federico Fellini. The film is based on two books, the 14th-century novel Fioretti Di San Francesco Little Flowers of St. Francis and La Vita di Frate Ginepro (The Life of Brother Juniper), both of which relate the life and work of St. Francis and the early Franciscans. I Fioretti is composed of 78 small chapters. The novel as a whole is less biographical and is instead more focused on relating tales of the life of St. Francis and his followers. The movie follows the same premise, though rather than relating all 78 chapters, it focuses instead on nine of them. Each chapter is composed in the style of a parable, and, like parables, contains a moral theme. Every new scene transitions with a chapter marker, a device that directly relates the film to the novel. When the movie initially debuted in America, where the novel was much less known, on October 6, 1952, the chapter markers were removed.
Included in the acting cast is Gianfranco Bellini as the narrator, who has voice-dubbed several American films for the Italian cinema. Monks from the Nocere Inferiore Monastery played the roles of St. Francis and the friars. Playing the role of St Francis is a Franciscan brother who is not credited, Brother Nazario Gerardi. The only professional actor in the film is the prominent Aldo Fabrizi, who had worked with Rossellini before, notably in the neorealistic work, Roma, Citta Aperta. Rome, Open City. The film garnered international acclaim for Fabrizi. He began his film career scene in 1942, and is noted for both writing and directing his own vehicles. In this film, Fabrizi plays the role of Nicolaio, the tyrant of Viterbo.
Rossellini had a strong interest in Christian values in the contemporary world. Though he was not a practicing Catholic, Rossellini loved the Church's ethical teaching, and was enchanted by religious sentiment-things which were neglected in the materialistic world. This interest helped to inspire the making of the film., and he also employed two priests to work on it with him, Felix A. Morlion O.P., and Antonio Lisandri O.F.M. Though the priests contributed little to the script, their presence within the movie gave a feel of respectability in regards to theology. Morlion vigorously defended Catholic foundations within Italian neorealism, and felt that Rossellini's work, and eventually scriptwriter Fellini's, best captured this foundation.
Pier Paolo Pasolini said that it was "among the most beautiful in Italian cinema" and Andrew Sarris ranked it eighth on his ten-best film list. Francois Truffaut called it "the most beautiful film in the world."