This is a very soft, brilliant, colorful movie, full of music and visual splendor. I wasn't sure what I expected... having heard about it for years before finally watching it... maybe some kind of hippie revisionist play a bit like "Godspell" but I was pleasantly surprised. Saint Francis of Assisi didn't start out as a wandering preacher monk, as many know. Rather, he was a spoiled medieval rich kid who decided to reject that life for a radical interpretation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and became the founder of a new religious order (the Franciscans) which was dedicated to living in the world, preaching in unusual circumstances to any who would listen and advocating for the poor (while living as beggars themselves). There is much artistic license in the movie, especially in terms of the costumes and armor, which are beautiful and sometimes look more like something you'd see in an expensive stage production rather than something modeled after real history. Francis (who is always referred to as "Francesco" in the movie's dialogue) comes across as eccentric, even insane at times, but in a "good" way if that makes sense, that his choices, while risky, aren't self-destructive or evil, but serve to make him a happier person and shock those around him into re-thinking their own lives. There is no drug use in this movie, rather the faith itself is the "drug" that allows Francis to break free from the life that was suffocating him, forcing him to be afraid and apart from the poor and even to idolize war. The movie has a subtle anti-war message when it portrays Francis being hyped up to go off on Crusade then fleeing back disillusioned. There is some rear nudity in the film (but it serves a purpose... Francis dramatically casts off his possessions including his rich clothing and piles it at the feet of his father, indicating his rejection.. for the sake of his own soul, of worldly luxury). The movie doesn't definitively tell us that God is real or that Francis is really being guided by him, but everything is portrayed almost like a dream, more real than real, and the viewer is left to see Francis as somebody that could be any one of us, and certainly someone who could inspire us to be more caring, more willing to share, and more willing to serve rather than be served. Life is seen as something beautiful when people recognize the worth of each other and love, not in a selfish way.
Francis teaches celibacy as a very good thing, but he also lets a brother go from the order when he sees that the man is struggling with chastity (the brother glimpses a mother wearing a loose top caring for her baby and becomes depressed). Francis here affirms the good of marriage and tells the brother that if everyone was celibate, the human race would die out, and sends him off with his blessing.
Francis also has a relationship with Clair, but it is not a sexual one, though it begins with a bit of flirtatiousness, it is more like that of a brother and sister, or good childhood friends. Clair too sees the call of Francis to a radical life of service to the poor and rejection of worldly goods and though the movie doesn't go into detail, is the co-founder of the order and a leader for the women.
Another stand out scene occurs near the end when we see Sir Alec Guinness portray the Pope. He is a mysterious figure, who seems engulfed in a sea of clergy who appear to be corrupted by the world and blinded by wealth and class from seeing what is truly important. The Pope seems in a trance, or like a stone statue, then comes to life at a moment to investigate Francis, who has been summoned... possibly suspected as being a heretic for his radical life that has caused upset in the country. But the Pope seems to recognize the Holy Spirit in Francis and gives him a blessing... he even bows down and kisses his feet which shocks his court. One jaded priest whispers to another "don't worry, his holiness knows what he's doing... Francis will bring the poor back to us." Shortly thereafter the movie ends. It doesn't cover the time period of the intense suffering of Francis near his death and little is made of his stories of preaching to animals or his stigmata (though there is a brief hint about it if memory serves).
This is a beautiful and inspiring movie, even if it may be a few parts imagination mixed with history, and this can have appeal to a person who is not Catholic, though an atheist viewer must have a harder time accepting it. Viewers who enjoyed this are encouraged to pick up a biography of St. Francis of Assisi to learn more.