Brother Sun, Sister Moon

Brother Sun, Sister Moon (Italian: Fratello Sole, Sorella Luna) is a 1972 film directed by Franco Zeffirelli and starring Graham Faulkner and Judi Bowker. The film is an examination of the life of Saint Francis of Assisi.

Brother Sun, Sister Moon
Brother sun sister moon.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byFranco Zeffirelli
Written bySuso Cecchi d'Amico
Lina Wertmüller
Kenneth Ross
Franco Zeffirelli
StarringGraham Faulkner
Judi Bowker
CinematographyEnnio Guarnieri
Edited byReginald Mills
Music byRiz Ortolani
Donovan (songs)
Distributed byParamount Pictures (through Cinema International Corporation)
Release date
  • 2 December 1972 (1972-12-02)
Running time
135 /122 min.
Box office$1,200,000 (US/ Canada rentals)[1]


Francesco, the spoiled son of Pietro Bernardone, a wealthy textile merchant, returns a changed man from fighting in the war between Assisi and Perugia. Struck by a feverish illness that has forced him to leave the war, Francesco lies on his bed tormented by visions of his past when he was a boisterous, arrogant youth. During a long recovery process, he slowly finds God in poverty, chastity and obedience, experiencing a physical and spiritual renewal.

Healthy again, Francesco returns to his normal life. However, to the consternation of his parents, he begins to spend most of his time surrounded by nature, flowers, trees, animals and poetry as he becomes more and more reluctant to resume his prior lifestyle. Pietro's obsession with gold now fills Francesco with revulsion, creating an open confrontation between Francesco and his father.

Francesco wanders into the basement where the family business is located. He feels the heat and humidity of the dye vats, passing through colorful lots of drying cloth, to see the workers with their families laboring in the heat without much rest. Rejecting his father's offer to take over the family business, he instead pulls the laborers out of the building to enjoy the daylight. Then he throws the costly textiles stored by his father out of the window to the poor gathered below. When his father sees the loss, Francesco invites him to join in throwing the cloth out the window so he can know the joy of being free of worldly possessions.

Pietro, completely frustrated, beats Francesco, drags him to the bishop's palace and humiliates his son in front of Assisi's bishop and the rest of the population. Lovingly, Francesco renounces all worldly possessions and his middle-class family including the name "Bernardone", removes his clothing and leaves Assisi, naked and free from his past, to live in the beauties of nature as an ascetic and to enjoy a simple life as a man of God.

Francesco comes upon the ruins of the chapel of San Damiano, where he hears God's voice asking him to "restore My Church." Believing God means San Damiano, Francesco begins to beg for rocks to rebuild that church. Much to the dismay of his family, some of Francesco's friends join him. He gradually gains a following from the sons of the wealthy, who begin to minister among the poor and the suffering.

The bishop refuses to stop Francesco, since he is rebuilding a church without pay and performing the works of mercy Christ demands of His followers. Francesco's friend Bernardo happily joins him after returning from the Fourth Crusade, a venture that left him in sorrow and emptiness. Two other friends, Silvestro and Giocondo, admiring Francesco's new vocation, help to rebuild San Damiano.

During a rainy afternoon, Francesco and his friends separate to beg food from the families of Assisi. Francesco comes to his family's home. Seeking forgiveness, he begins to recite the Beatitudes, causing his mother much anguish, while Pietro pretends not to hear, refusing to be reconciled with their son.

Clare, a beautiful young woman also from a wealthy family, serves and cares for lepers living near the town. She joins the brothers in their life of poverty. Meanwhile, in Assisi, the city's nobility and wealthy merchants protest against Francesco and his group, worried about them "corrupting" the whole of Assisi's youth, and they command Francesco's friend Paolo to hinder and stop the so-called "minor brothers."

One day the rebuilt chapel is set on fire, and one of Francesco's followers is killed (this scene, introduced for dramatic effect, is unhistorical). That people can hate so much causes Francesco much sorrow. He blames himself, but cannot understand what he has done wrong. He then decides to walk to Rome and to seek out answers from Pope Innocent III.

In Rome, Francesco is stunned by the enormous wealth and power shown in the clothing of clerics and the papal court surrounds. When granted an audience with the Pope, Francesco breaks from reciting Paolo's carefully prepared script and calmly protests against pomp and worldliness, reciting some of Jesus' words from the Sermon on the Mount praising humility to protest that Christ's teachings are totally opposite to Rome's obsession with wealth. The cardinals, bishops and abbots of the papal court are insulted at having the words of Jesus thrown in their faces. Francesco and his friends are expelled. Finally accepting his admiration toward Francesco, Paolo decides to join them. Francesco tries to protect Paolo, saying that he is not one of them, but his friend insists on joining the friars, convincing Francesco of the sincerity of his conversion, and they are put out with the others.

On his throne Pope Innocent, seemingly waking from a dream, orders Francesco and his friends to be brought back. The Pope addresses Francesco: "In our obsession with original sin we have forgotten original innocence." In language from one of the Psalms, Innocent prays that Francesco's order "flourish like the palm."

Then to everyone's astonishment, Pope Innocent kneels, kisses Francesco's feet and blesses him and his companions, wishing for them a long worldwide society of men and women willing to serve God in humility. One of the final lines places the sincerity of the Pope's response in question when an unnamed cardinal, observing what the Pope has done, comments to a bishop: "Don't be alarmed, His Holiness knows what he is doing. This is the man who will speak to the poor, and bring them back to us."

The film finishes with the sight of Francesco slowly walking alone into the distance in the countryside to the sound of the title song "Brother Sun and Sister Moon."



Zeffirelli's signature lush photography in Brother Sun, Sister Moon indicates that it was conceived and executed in the same visual manner as his Academy Award-winning adaptation of Romeo and Juliet (1968). The film attempts to draw parallels between the work and philosophy of Saint Francis and the ideology that underpinned the worldwide counterculture movement of the 1960s and early 1970s. The film is also known for the score composed by Riz Ortolani.

Frank Grimes originally was offered the lead role of Francesco di Bernardone, but Zeffirelli changed his mind at the last minute and withdrew his offer. Al Pacino screen-tested for the role, but Zeffirelli objected to Pacino's theatrical style. Robin Askwith revealed in his autobiography that he was cast in the film but later was fired.[2]

Lynne Frederick auditioned for the role of Clare of Assisi, and was first runner up. Candace Glendenning also tested for the role but was considered to be "too exotic-looking".[3]

The film was nominated for an Oscar for Best Art Direction (Lorenzo Mongiardino, Gianni Quaranta, Carmelo Patrono).[4]


Brother Sun, Sister Moon received mixed reviews on its release. Roger Ebert harshly criticized the film, writing that it had "an excess of sweetness and light", and that its dialogue consisted of "empty, pretty phrasing". The New York Times reviewer Vincent Canby similarly wrote that the film "confuses simplicity with simple-mindedness". Canby contrasted it negatively with The Flowers of St. Francis, a 1950 film on the same subject. Both reviewers especially criticized the scene where Francis appears before Pope Innocent III, calling it gaudy and excessive. Ebert wrote, "does the Pope always have 200 divines on hand just to hold an audience for a few barefoot monks?"[5][6]

However, Christopher Hudson of The Spectator called Brother Sun, Sister Moon "a beautiful and simple film" and especially praised its cinematography, though he acknowledged "the limitations of the script".[7]

On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 42% based on 19 reviews from critics, and an average rating of 4.9/10, while holding a rating of 77% from audiences, with an average rating of 4/5.[8]


The soundtrack was by Riz Ortolani for the Italian film and Ken Thorne[9] for the English language version with songs by the Scottish singer-songwriter Donovan, which reflected the 'flower power' mood of Zeffirelli's film and the cinematography in particular. Donovan also sang all the songs on the soundtrack itself. The soundtrack album mainly featured Riz Ortolani's music.[10] In 2004, Donovan re-recorded the songs from the long out-of-print soundtrack. Brother Sun, Sister Moon was released exclusively on iTunes Store.

The composer Leonard Bernstein and lyricist Leonard Cohen were originally commissioned to provide a score, but after working on the project for about three months in Italy, they withdrew.[11] However Bernstein used "A Simple Song", originally written for the film, in his Mass.[12][13] Paul Simon was also approached for music and lyrics, but he too declined.[14] However, a quatrain he wrote while considering the commission was later presented to Leonard Bernstein for use in his Mass.[15]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1973". Variety. 9 January 1974. p. 60.
  2. ^ "Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1972)- Trivia".
  3. ^ Edwards, Jonathan (1 January 2020). "Lynne Frederick Remembered » We Are Cult". We Are Cult. Retrieved 3 January 2020.
  4. ^ "The New York Times: Brother Sun, Sister Moon". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. 2009. Archived from the original on 13 February 2009. Retrieved 29 December 2008.
  5. ^ Ebert, Roger (19 April 1973). "Brother Sun, Sister Moon". Chicago Sun-Times.
  6. ^ Canby, Vincent (9 April 1973). "Zeffirelli's Film Study of St. Francis". The New York Times.
  7. ^ Hudson, Christopher (14 April 1973). "Travelling light". The Spectator.
  8. ^ "Brother Sun, Sister Moon (Fratello sole, sorella luna) (1972)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 22 March 2018.
  9. ^ American Film Institute Catalogue: Brother Sun Sister Moon - Music Credits - Ken Thorne conductor, arranger & music coordinator on
  10. ^ Fratello Sole Sorella Luna (Original Soundtrack) at Discogs (list of releases)
  11. ^ Ira B. Nadel, Various Positions: A Life of Leonard Cohen. Retrieved 3 April 2015
  12. ^ Allen Shawn, Leonard Bernstein: An American Musician. Retrieved 3 April 2015
  13. ^ Naxos. Retrieved 3 April 2015
  14. ^ Marc Eliot, "Paul Simon: A Life". Retrieved 3 April 2015
  15. ^ Paul R. Laird, The Musical Theatre of Stephen Schwartz: From Godspell to Wicked and Beyond. Retrieved 3 April 2015

External linksEdit