Films of Faith

Italian filmmaker Franco Zeffirelli's adaptation of Charlotte Bronte's classic Gothic novel Jane Eyre recently opened to rave reviews across the U.S., including two very enthusiastic "thumbs up" from Siskel and Ebert. Jane Eyre is yet another remarkable Zeffirelli film that might never have been made but for a near-tragic automobile accident that forever changed the celebrated director's life. For 50 years Zeffirelli has enjoyed one of the most extraordinary artistic careers of the twentieth century. He has made his enduring mark both on the opera stage and behind the camera. And despite the scorn of his detractors, he has done so without compromising--or hiding--his Christian principles. Much of Zeffirelli's early work anticipated Hollywood's "great books" craze. His first film was an adaptation of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. Next came Romeo and Juliet, his best known film. Despite starring two unknowns, the film was a financial and critical success--winning two Academy Awards in 1968. Zeffirelli's brilliant career almost came to a tragic end on an Italian highway in 1971. While driving to a soccer game with Gina Lollabrigida, Zeffirelli lost control of his Rolls Royce. He miraculously survived the accident and knew that God had spared his life. He recommitted himself to his childhood faith. The effects of Zeffirelli's conversion were immediately reflected in his work. His first post-conversion film was the story of St. Francis of Assisi, Brother Sun and Sister Moon. Critics dismissed the film, but it was tremendously popular with audiences worldwide. Five years later Zeffirelli made the television mini-series Jesus of Nazareth. Unlike other contemporary portrayals, Jesus of Nazareth presents the same Jesus that every Christian knows from the pages of Scripture. Zeffirelli's Jesus heals the sick, feeds the hungry, and in the ultimate miracle of all, is shown being raised from the dead. Zeffirelli's Christianity has led him to take positions on artistic and social issues that alienate him from the artistic establishment. He is an outspoken opponent of abortion and sexual license, especially in art. He decries the nihilism that passes for "sophistication." According to Zeffirelli, our culture has convinced itself that "art has to make you feel guilty. You must suffer or else it is not art." This, he says, "annihilates the real purpose of art, which is expanding freedom, imagination, creativity--not mental constipation." Zeffirelli's contention that art is about being made in the image of God, not fashionable nihilism, has earned him the scorn of the Italian cultural establishment. While Jane Eyre was receiving high praise in North America and Britain, his fellow Italians awarded the film only grudging praise. His critics mockingly call him "Patrizio Buchanan" for his moral and political stands. If you wonder whether there's an alternative to filmmakers who take delight in flouting every moral sensibility, look no further. Take your family and friends to see Jane Eyre--or look for Zeffirelli's other fine films on video. It's up to people who believe as Franco Zeffirelli does to support art that reflects what is good and noble and an inspiration to us all.


Chuck Colson


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