Q: Another film on St. Francis?
Zeffirelli: They are two very different things. The first, which I directed 30 years ago, is a fable. This one, instead, will cover the second part of his life when, in 1219, Francis traveled to the East to try to avoid the Fifth Crusade proclaimed by Pope Gregory IX. He was received as a messenger of peace by the Sultan of Egypt himself, Malik-al-Kamil.
The script begins with the episode of the wolf of Gubbio. Francis understood that the wild animal attacked because it was afraid; hence, he must be treated as a friend. The friar applied the same stance of acceptance and dialogue to the Saracens. The story has a very strong mystical component. In fact, I have entitled it “The Three Rings.”
Q: Three, like the monotheist religions?
Zeffirelli: Exactly. It narrates the legend that a Muslim king, who loved his three sons equally, did not wish to implement the Koranic law, which establishes the transmission of power to only one heir.
In order to resolve the question, he had three copies of the ring of command smelted and gave them to his sons, exhorting them to govern together in peace. The Sultan offers Francis one of the rings but the saint, fearing a temptation from the Evil One, suggests they be joined into one.
Q: A clear and very timely message.
Zeffirelli: The three religions must not be a reason for discrimination.
Q: Have you thought of the actors already?
Zeffirelli: An actor between the ages of 35-40 is needed for Francis. The Sultan of Egypt is also very important, as well as his closest adviser, who was a Jew.