This is my entry in the Film + Faith Blog-a-Thon over at Strange Culture check out the hub for some good reading on film, faith, and that grey area where the two meet.
Roberto Rossellini's The Flowers of St. Francis could have been a very boring film. St. Francis of Assisi (Brother Nazario Gerardi) has little contact with anyone outside of the group of monks he leads, and the stories which focus on him revolve around his advice and his meek nature. Thank goodness, then for Brother Ginepro (Brother Severino Pisacane). His stories involve his interactions with the world around him, and it gives the viewer an opportunity to witness what happens when the faithful meet the faithless.
The first time we meet Ginepro, he has given away his robe to a poor man. His reasoning? The poor man asked for it, and Ginepro couldn't refuse such a request. This is the perfect introduction, as it tells us everything we need to know about Ginepro's character. He is absolutely devout to his beliefs, but he is too simple to understand when he should limit his adherence for his own sake. He won't look out for himself unless specifically ordered by St. Francis. Of course, sometimes he even goes against that. Later in the film, Ginepro has given away a new robe to another poor man. This time he says because the poor man asked in God's name. Ginepro didn't give away the robe, as St. Francis specifically ordered against, but he didn't prevent the poor man from taking the robe off his back. His devotion to St. Francis' message is astonishing, but it pales in comparison to his actions before Nicolaio the Tyrant (Aldo Fabrizi).
Ginepro is an extremely naive character, as shown by his belief that Nicolaio's subjects would appreciate his sermons, even after they have severely beaten him. When Nicolaio asks who he is, Ginepro can only respond that he is a worthless sinner. That is what he believes, and it almost gets him killed. This entire sequence shows exactly where Rossellini stands on the matter of faith. Though Nicolaio almost kills Ginepro because of his faith, it is Ginepro's resilience that saves his life. A lesser man would have fought back against Nicolaio, sealing his fate. Ginepro only looks back with a smile on his face, taught humility and passivity by St. Francis. That saves his life, and reveals Rossellini's beliefs. Even if God does not exist, it is better to have faith in a falsity than to lack any faith at all. Ginepro is the filter through which we can see Rossellini's true feelings, and as such his part is the most important in the film.