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The twenty eighth verse of the sixth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew; this Bible verse explains the depth of the film ‘Lilies of the field’. Lilies of the Field, is a 1963 film adapted from a novel with the same name by William Edmund Barrett, starring Sidney Poitier, Lilia Skala, Stanley Adams and Dan Frazer. It was produced and directed by Ralph Nelson.
‘Lilies of the field’ tells the story of an African American itinerant worker Homer Smith who encounters a group of East German nuns, who believe that he has been sent to them by God to build them a new chapel.
Simplicity always brings elegance. The beauty and grace of this film is its simplicity. The storyline is so simple and transparent yet it leaves a large scope for a deeper philosophical interpretation about the meaninglessness of materialistic provisions and worries. Communicating this kind of a rational and profound message through an apparently light story treatment shows that how strong and brilliant is the craft of this work.
The film ends where Smith brings the chapel to completion, placing the cross on the spire himself. Later that evening, as he leads the nuns in singing "Amen" once again, Smith slips out the door and, still singing the lead, the nuns voices chiming softly behind him; he takes one last look at the chapel he built, start up his station wagon and drives quietly off into the night. This sequence can be interpreted as the never ending quest of man to go ahead with his spiritual itineration to explore the essence of life and truth of self. Homer Smith is attached to his work but at the same time he is detached to its fruit. The philosophy of attachment rooted in detachment is skillfully presented in this film.
Minimalistic usage of dialogues is another specialty of this film. The spectator is not showered with hard and complicated dramatic dialogues which made the film more engaging. For example, there is a scene in the film in which the mother superior, the leader of the nuns, persuades Homer Smith to do a small roofing repair. He stays overnight, assuming that he will be paid in the morning. Next day, Smith tries to persuade the mother superior to pay him by quoting Luke 10:7, "The laborer is worthy of his hire." Mother Maria responds by asking him to read another Bible verse from the Sermon on the Mount: "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin. And yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”
Deep focus wide shots made the movie more realistic. Brilliantly composed frames made even the barren landscapes an ambience building character in this film. Remarkably logical use of music intensified the emotional appeal of the scenes. The film features an early film score by prolific composer Jerry.
Sidney Poiter has played the role of Homer Smith in the film. The lion share of the credits for the success of this film should be given to this gifted actor. Even the minutest traits of Homer Smith are well taken by Sidney Poiter. Poiter won the 1963 Academy Award for Best Actor for this film and it was the first time a black man won a competitive Oscar.
‘Lilies of the field’ is a different experience which is capable of showing you how meaningful and beautiful can be simplicity is.