Director Eugene Green unveils his contemplative film La Sapienza, combining the beauty of art and youth with the confounding complications of maturity and discouragement
The church of St. Ivo alla Sapienza in Rome, remains Baroque architect Francesco Borromini’s greatest work. A well-known and lifelong rival of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, creator of astounding masterpieces such as La Fontana di Trevi and Saint Peter’s Basilica, Borromini possessed a fierce artistic temperament that was matched solely by his daring and unique structures , as well as his astounding flair for the extravagant.
Eugene Green’s latest film, La Sapienza, does an astounding job of matching Borromini’s visually imposing structure with breathtaking cinematography, added to heartfelt dialogue. Opening shots of industrial Paris buildings, traffic, and people are mixed together with the beauty of Rome, with its cobblestone streets and astounding basilicas. This serves almost as a prediction as to what is to come later, industrialism and the appropriate use of public spaces, clashing with the massive beauty of the ancient world.
The plot is simple at first glance, but it gradually surprises with a rather complex delivery, dissecting life, love, and art with an unforgiving view at human insecurities. French couple, Alienor and Alexandre, have reached a dangerous point in their relationship; one where career accomplishments clash directly with the dreams of youth, and idealism seems to have reached an inevitable end. Alexandre is the recipient of a lifetime achievement award for his highly reputed enterprises and career as a famed architect. However, his demeanor and downcast glance as he receives the award, while labeling himself in front of an expecting audience as “a materialist”, hints at something wrong that lays beneath. He shares cold and almost robotic gestures of affection with Alienor, both surrounded constantly by a forced symmetric world, symbolized in identically half full glasses of water, simultaneous and placement of hands at the table, and the two identically placed cups of coffee.
Disappointed with his latest architectural enterprise, Alexandre decides to travel to Italy with Alienor and continue his long-forgotten project of a book on architect Francesco Borromini, hoping that this will serve as a source of inspiration. As they arrive in Stresa, Borromini’s native home, they happen upon Lavinia and Goffredo, a pair of siblings who share a closeness and a camaraderie that is missing in their older counterparts. Plagued with a mysterious illness which Lavinia refers to as “dizzy spells”, this serves as the opening of a more intricate story as Goffredo admits to be an aspiring architect, enthusiastic by the advantage of youth, overflowing with the bright-eyed energy that has long since left Alexandre. Inspired by the closeness of the two siblings, Alienor hands to her husband a proposition: she will stay behind and care for the frail Lavinia, and Goffredo will go in her place to Rome, as a sort of apprentice to Alexandre, a unique opportunity for the young boy to learn from the master.
Alexandre, less than thrilled by this, reluctantly agrees and travels with Goffredo to Rome where they visit, among many architectural prodigies, Borromini’s grandiose work of art; the church of St. Ivo alla Sapienza. This journey is intertwined with biographical scenes of Borromini’s own life and his eventual suicide, overwhelmed by the malady of dissatisfaction and the constant turbulence of a mind that never stops to rest, seeking beauty and perfection at every turn. The transformation that takes over these four characters is no less than astounding, the student becoming the master, and the master regaining an almost youthful innocence that he thought lost forever.
It is at this point that Green takes us deeper, diving into the intricate world of human aspirations and disappointments, and what it means to lose the bountiful splendor of youth. It is an almost cautionary tale that dwells between past and present, bringing with it the possibility of spiritual and ideological rebirth. The complex relationship built between Alexandre and Goffredo, simultaneously blended with the care-giving affiliation that initiates amidst Lavinia and Alienor, La Sapienza is the encounter of art and hope, youth and maturity, unveiling the labyrinthine aspects of human emotions, equaled only with the audacity of innocence.
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