LA SAPIENZA (Eugène Green, France, 2014, Internaational Panorama)
Director Eugène Green, although he was born in USA (thinking of FORT BUCHANAN’s Benjamin Crotty was he trying to start a trend?) his films are intensely French, and often feature French cultural treasures – architectural, music, literary. (I wonder if the accent in his name is actually on his birth certificate?)
LA SAPIENZA revolves around two couples. Aleixandre is an outstandingly successful architect, his wife Aliénor although also successful in her own work seems dissatisfied and perhaps a bit alienated (is her name intended as a signifier of this?) with her lot and a sense perhaps a lot is missing in the marriage. They do go together, however, to Italy when Alexandre wants to do some research on Baroque architect Francesco Borromini.
In a beautiful town on Lake Maggiore in northern n Italy, they meet a young brother and sister when the girl collapses in the park both couples are walking through. Developments lead to the architect taking (perhaps a bit reluctantly) the 18 year old Goffredo with him to Rome where he will continue his research. Goffredo is hoping to study architecture himself next year. Aliénor stays behind with Lavinia, feeling some responsibility to see she is really well after the dramatic turn she’d had in the park.
The film shifts back and forth between the two pairs. The interactions are gentle. Alexandre, perhaps with an air of condescension at first, teaches Goffredo about Borromini as they visit some of his great buildings. But slowly, he himself is challenged by Alexandre’s own fresh, uncorrupted insights and observations. Meanwhile, Aliénor and Lavinia are sharing time, going to a performance in French of a classic, Baroque play by Moliere, talk about their own pasts, share coffees.
Gradually, imperceptibly, yet dramatically and movingly, all four find new strengths within themselves to move on to the next phases of their lives. This emerges subtly, convincingly, quietly.
Green’s style is certainly distinctive. Right from the start, he is confronting his audience with different visual approaches. An early restaurant meal with Alexandre and Aliénor is shot dead square on, the couple’s table a small, seemingly isolated object in the middle – the very middle, symmetrically – in the frame. When one or other speaks, he or she is also placed dead centre in the frame, looking directly at the camera. And directed to have a blank, inexpressive, Bressonian face. Nothing more powerfully evokes the emptiness of their relationship at this point – but I think some viewers found this a bit too confronting for comfort.
One quick Festival viewing is clearly not enough for this film, with its insights into relationships, architecture, the role of the arts in our lives, travel, innocence and experience. And its surface is also to be wallowed in, with its locations in Baroque Rome, and the lakes in North Italy, with a glorious soundtrack with wonderful helpings of Monteverdi.
I came across one review by Godfrey Cheshire on the Roger Ebert.com website which to me does the film better justice than I can at this stage.