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
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, spoiled son of wealthy textile merchant Pietro Bernardone, returns from fighting in the war between Assisi and Perugia. Illness has forced him to leave the war. Francesco is tormented by visions of his past when he was a boisterous, arrogant youth. During a long recovery, he finds God in poverty, chastity and obedience, experiencing a physical and spiritual renewal.

Francesco recovers. However, to his parents' consternation, he spends most of his time surrounded by nature, flowers, trees, animals and poetry as he becomes reluctant to resume his previous lifestyle. Pietro's obsession with gold now fills Francesco with revulsion, creating an open confrontation between them.

One day Francesco wanders into the basement and feels the heat and humidity of the dye vats, seeing the workers with their families laboring in the heat without rest. Rejecting his father's offer to let him take over the business, he instead pulls the laborers out of the building to enjoy the daylight. Then he throws the textiles stored by his father out of the window to the poor gathered below. Francesco invites his father to join in. Pietro beats Francesco, drags him to the bishop's palace and humiliates his son. 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 goes to the ruins of the chapel of San Damiano, where he hears God's voice asking him to "restore my church." Believing that God means San Damiano, Francesco begins to beg for rocks to rebuild the 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.

The bishop refuses to stop Francesco, since he is rebuilding a church and performing the works of mercy Christ demands of His followers. Francesco's friend Bernardo joins him after returning from the Fourth Crusade.

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

One day the rebuilt church is set on fire, and one of Francesco's followers is killed. Francesco blames himself, but cannot understand what he has done wrong. He decides to walk to Rome and to seek answers from Pope Innocent III.

In Rome, Francesco is stunned by the wealth and power of the papal court. In front of 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 to show that Christ's teachings are totally opposite to Rome's obsession with wealth. The cardinals, bishops and abbots of the papal court feel insulted. Francesco and his friends are expelled. Accepting his admiration for 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. They are put out with the others.

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." The Pope admits that when he was a young curate, he thought with the same idealism as Francis "until he became caught in the entrapments of Church Government". He confesses that with the centuries, the church had acquired a lot of wealth and power and that seeing the extreme poverty of Francis and his companions, Pope Innocent remarks "has brought us (the established church) all to shame". In language from one of the Psalms, Innocent prays that Francesco's order may "flourish like the palm."

Then to everyone's astonishment, Pope Innocent kneels, kisses Francesco's feet and blesses him, his companions and grants them permission to establish their holy order of friars. One of the final lines places the sincerity of the Pope's response in question when a 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 Francesco walking alone into 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 also



  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 Archived 12 June 2020 at the Wayback Machine. 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