La Sapienza

04/02/2015 11:39 am ET | Updated Jun 02, 2015


"The treasure of dawn is sapienza." We also know that the eponymous La Sapienza is beyond knowledge and beauty, but the concept itself is something that Eugene Green, who directed La Sapienza, currently playing at Film Forum, never quite defines. It's plainly something more than the English translation of sapience or wisdom. Perhaps it's the work of the legendary Baroque architect Borromini that Green's camera so lovingly caresses. It's in fact part of the narrative that Rome's Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza is at first off limits, much like the recondite knowledge of heaven, earth and esthetics that's the film seeks to explore. Speaking of knowledge the film's disquisition is much like a Platonic dialogue, a series of stark philosophical discussions that leave the viewer in the position of Plato's cave dweller, who can only see the shadows of reality on the walls. Alexandre Schmidt (Fabrizio Rongione) is an architect who sets out to write a book on Borromini though his own legacy is one of rationalism. He describes Borromini as the mystical baroque while Bernini is the rational. Schmidt's own work is that of a ma whose feet are unhappily earthbound. His churches are factories and he builds a hospital to acclimate patients to the windowless coffins they will one day occupy. His wife Alienor (Christelle Prot) who has a background in psychology and psychoanalysis attempts to break through his detachment. She'd given birth to a Down's Syndrome child who her husband had wanted to institutionalize. Along with art, illness is another leitmotif. Alexandre and Alienor journey to Stresa, in the Northern lake region of Italy where they befriend a young woman Lavinia (Arianna Nastro) and her brother Goffredo (Luduvico Succio). Lavinia is suffering from a mysterious nervous disorder that's complicated by the incestuous attachment to her brother. We're literally and metaphorically in Thomas Mann country where spiritual and physical illness are conflated. When Alienor attempts to provide a cathartic cure for Lavinia by taking her to a performance of Moliere's The Imaginary Invalid, Lavinia remarks that Moliere, who died playing the role, may have sacrificed his life so the character could live on. The associations are like a tornado, swirling upwards with the twists of Borromini's transcendent style. If La Sapienza eludes interpretation, it may be because of its ambition to raise the viewer's eyes to an architectural vision of heaven.

{This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art culture}