Director: Eugène Green
Country: France | Italy
Running Time: 100 minutes (1:40:31)
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Language: French | Italian
If you are new to the works of the New York born (though naturalised French) auteur, Eugène Green, then it will no doubt take a while to adjust to the rather formal and unorthodox style with which he constructs his films. However, if you are willing to invest the time then you will almost certainly find yourself immersed in what proves a rewarding, precisely composed and aesthetically refined piece of cinema.
At 50, celebrated architect Alexandre Schmidt is becoming disillusioned and increasingly doubtful over the meaning of his work. In search of spiritual and artistic renewal, Alexandre decides to pursue a long cherished dream to travel to Italy to study the work of 17th-century architect Francesco Borromini, accompanied by his psychoanalyst wife Aliénor, a specialist in behavioural issues. After spending the day in Stresa, the couple meet the adolescent siblings, Goffredo – an aspiring architect – and Lavinia – a sickly young girl suffering from a strange nervous illness. Aliénor decides to stay and look after Lavinia and offers her place on the trip to Goffredo as part of his research, leaving Alexandre obliged to take him with him to Rome.
The long-awaited follow up to Green’s previous feature, the 2009 drama, ‘The Portuguese Nun’ (‘A Religiosa Portuguesa’), ‘La Sapienza’ (named after the famous seventeenth-century Roman Catholic church, Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza, designed by Borromini) presents itself, on the surface, as a rather cautious and unadventurous examination of a middle-aged couple finding themselves renewed by their time spent with likeminded younger companions, however it is the visual and emotional depth imbued in almost every frame, combined with a passionate indulgence in 17th Century architecture, which adds that necessary depth and enhances the various themes explored.
What begins as a fairly run of the mill piece soon develops into something rather unique and unexpectedly absorbing, cleverly drawing the viewer into the respective life-affirming and contemplative journeys presented and delivering a rich critique on art, love, music, architecture, inspiration and, of course, La Sapienza, wisdom.
The main visual factor that endures in any Green film is of course the stillness of the image and the intricate beauty of the frame, here elegantly captured by cinematographer, Raphaël O’Byrne. Very rarely does the camera ever track or pan, and when it does it is only for a few brief seconds at most, always at a rather lethargic pace. The formal delivery style is utilised very well and though rather surreal, never feels out of place in the overall context. Characters frequently penetrate beyond both the fourth wall and their subjects’ gaze, delivering their lines in the clipped, declamatory style Green has firmly established as his own.
Though Green has been responsible for a number of acclaimed works throughout his career and built up a loyal following in the process, he sadly remains a fairly elusive and overlooked figure in contemporary European cinema. Hopefully with La Sapienza, undoubtedly his finest achievement to date, his renown will soon change and new audiences will discover some of the rewarding gems they have been missing out on.
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