Saturday, March 21, 2015

Eugène Green's LA SAPIENZA proves a precise and thoughtful ode to the meaning of wisdom

Normally I publish my reviews in advance of those in our daily newspapers, but occasionally, as now, I forget to schedule the posting of a film seen a few weeks earlier, and so I am late in covering LA SAPIENZA, the new film (and the first of his I've seen) by New York-born writer/ director Eugène Green. Consequently I can suggest that you also read the very fine review of this movie by A.O.Scott in The New York Times, which should indicate pretty quickly if this is the sort of movie that appeals.

Precise is the first word that came to mind as I viewed this quietly beautiful, visually and verbally unusual movie by Mr. Green, who is shown at left. The filmmaker's precision in all he touches is extraor-dinary. Everything from compositions to dialog is choreographed in a most exact manner. Initially, this may seem off-putting. Yet so beautiful is what Green shows us, so precise is the dialog that comes from the mouths of all his characters that this produces a kind of pleasantly hypnotic effect -- and not one that puts you to sleep. Rather it quiets you and allows you to watch and listen to your fullest.

This "style," which is, if not totally different from almost any other film-maker I can recall, is at least pushed farther than most would dare to take it. In La Sapienza -- which translates into English as sapience (and I had to look up the meaning of this word to be certain) or wisdom/sagacity -- an architect (Fabrizio Rongione, above, right), who has refused all offers of working as a teacher and who is clearly estranged on certain levels from his wife (Christelle Prot Landman, above, left), a sociologist and perhaps a budding psychologist, too, has a kind of epiphany over the course of the film. The film, in fact, constitutes that epiphany.

The couple, mostly at his bidding, decides to travel to Italy so that he can complete a project he began years earlier on Italian architect Francesco Borromini. While there, the pair meets a younger couple, siblings played by newcomer Ludovico Succio (above, left) and Arianna Nastro (above, right, of The Solitude of Prime Numbers, click and scroll down), he about to study architecture and she a lovely young lady with a fainting problem.

Immediately we're faced with the push and pull of age against youth, the interests of each, and the knowledge and experience necessary for one set to rise to the level of the other. (The movie bears an intriguing relationship to another that opens next week: While We're Young, about which I'll have more to say soon.) In any case, the male and females separate here, with the characters played by Succio and Rongione going off on a Borromini trek, while Ms Landman and Ms Nastro stay behind and have quite an interesting time on their own.

The two men visit various architecture and also spend some time with a "friend of a friend" who introduces them to a younger and different set of folk who then connect the two (and us) to "modern living." Those quotes are necessary, for Mr. Green's idea of modernity acts as a kind of theme of its own, giving the film a bit of a goosing (yes, they go to a "club" and dance) but also a bit of a baseball bat with which to beat some sense into us about how awful this modernity really is.

The problem here is that most people I know can and do appreciate both the beauty and quietude of great architecture, as well as being able to sit down at their computer or at their tablet or cell and connecting with life in ways that do not have to be in-person or one-on-one. Some have even been known to go clubbing, as well as to the Met (Museum and Opera). There is a bit too much insistence on either/or to make the movie completely convincing. (Mr. Scott's review is especially interesting in its look at the personality and desires of the filmmaker.)

That said, La Sapienza offers so much beauty and so many thoughtful ideas on architecture, light, spirituality, psychology and relationships that it is worth the time of intelligent audiences worldwide. Besides introducing us to two beautiful young performers who may have further careers, the film does some lovely stuff regarding the relationship between the two women -- one of whom discovers more about her maternal instinct, while the other begins to understand herself better and can thus exercise more control over her own life.

There's a lot to love about La Sapienza, once you give over to Green's unusually formal and precise style. Take a chance on this one, which opened theatrically here in New York City yesterday, March 20, at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema. From Kino Lorber and running 100 minutes, the currently scheduled playdates around the country can be accessed by clicking here and scrolling down.

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