The Sultan and the Saint – review

The Sultan and the Saint (see trailer) is the combination of a documentary and a movie, telling the story of the peaceful encounter between Francis of Assisi and the Egyptian sultan Al-Kamil in 1519, during the fifth crusade. It has scenes in which actors play the various parts of the story and its historical context, and scenes in which contemporary scholars explain and interpret the historical context and the meaning of the encounter. The whole is narrated by Jeremy Irons.

On the one hand, the historical context is explained quite well, and helps to understand the uniqueness of this peaceful encounter. On the other hand, the acting is often quite bad, the story is overly romanticized (and very, well… American), and some of the scholarly commentary is quite off the mark or not very relevant, especially the attention given to the neuroscientific perspective. Nevertheless, it is good news that a documentary film has been dedicated to the encounter between Francis of Assisi and sultan Al-Kamil. It can help to be inspired again by the uniqueness of this peaceful encounter in the midst of the crusades, and to look for connections with our time, especially the encounter hosted by pope John Paul II in Assisi in 1986 in which he gathered the representatives of the world religions to share a day of fasting and to pray for peace, to show how religions can be a source of peace and fraternity in our violent and divided time. This pilgrimage of peace in the spirit of Assisi is continued in our time by pope Francis, which has already brought him to visit Egypt and the Emirates where he signed a document on human fraternity together with imam Al-Tayeb of Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, exactly to commemorate the 800th anniversary of the encounter between Francis and the sultan.

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