“Brother”, poignant dive among the Franciscans of the Bronx

Brother ***

by Arnaud Fournier Montgieux

Documentary film, 1 h 18

“I love the poor. I have always loved the poor. And now it’s my life. “ Alone in an intimate and stripped-down setting, Brother François does not seek to shy away from high theological considerations. Her confidences are simple, humble and deep, like the radical nature of her life. In front of the camera of Arnaud Fournier Montgieux, the religious agreed to give himself up intimately on his spiritual journey in the documentary film Brother, on view from Wednesday, November 17 in a hundred cinemas in France.

Why did this young railway engineer, graduate of the prestigious Central School and promised a bright future, decide to leave everything in France, to go and embrace the religious vocation on another continent? What ties has he learned to forge in recent years with the underprivileged he meets every day in the American ghetto of Newark, the poorest city in New Jersey? How does he still understand community life, with the other Franciscan Brothers of the Renewal – better known under the name of “Franciscans of the Bronx” -?

Social violence

Distribution of food aid, spiritual accompaniment, celebrations and prayers, outside visits… In almost an hour and a quarter, this film thus offers a sensitive and delicate immersion in the daily life of the thirty-something. It accurately shows the harsh reality of the most disadvantaged neighborhoods – “Where the police sometimes don’t even come anymore” – from this outlying New York suburb, the scene of violent race riots in the twilight of the 1960s, and still plagued by social violence, gangs and drug trafficking.

As Brother François travels, a whole gallery of portraits of marginalized people, with whom the latter has befriended, also appears on the screen. Cap screwed on the head, there is Roberto, alias “Touch”, broad shoulders and tattooed body, who unrolls his battered course without hesitation. Childhood and adolescence in the street, first arrest at 14 for armed robberies, kidnappings … “I grew up like a killer”, thus retraces the one who spent more than ten years behind bars, before settling after the birth of his premature son.

There is also Ryan, driven by his addiction to heroin to commit thefts, and who converted after “Twelve years of debauchery”. His mother, a former prostitute, herself died of pancreatic cancer in a drug rehabilitation center while he was in prison. There is still this man, the haggard gaze and the stoned air, who confides in the death of his four-month-old daughter, who came to seek some comfort from the community.

Sensitivity to art

Punctuated by pieces played by singing brothers or musicians, the documentary also gives pride of place to this Franciscan appetite for the arts. François, in particular, sculpts and draws. “He sketches the portraits of those he comes to visit at home, it is also a way of communicating”, entrusted to The cross the director Arnaud Fournier Montgieux. Friend of François before it became the subject of his film, he said he was touched by “This sensitivity shared by the community for the arts, which breaks with the monastic image in which the latter are present, but in a rather contemplative way”.

Of his month of filming on the spot, he still tells how much “The particular relationship to time” Franciscans challenged him, “Between hyperactivity among the underprivileged, and precious time for prayer and healing”, moreaway from the hustle and bustle of the urban world. A balance, however, sometimes difficult to find.“We did not choose to live together. We come from all over the world, and there is this call that goes beyond us, and brought us together ”, thus raises Brother François, beforeto recognize: “Community life is a vaccine against selfishness, against pride”.


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