Wednesday, October 1, 2014

NYFF Spotlight: La Sapienza

I have the distinct pleasure this year of covering a few of the films that are being shown at the New York Film Festival, which takes place September 26th-October 12th.

La Sapienza
Directed by Eugène Green

Europe and architecture are a natural pair. Every country on the continent has a rich and lengthy history, especially compared to the relatively young United States, and Europeans have a different appreciation for their many monuments, landmarks, churches, and other preserved works of art. “La Sapienza” is a film that embraces that connection, focusing on Alexandre (Fabrizio Rongione), an architect whose field-specific knowledge and skills dwarf his social abilities and interest in conversing with just about anyone. His pretentious, steely nature sets this film up as a gradually accessible and endearing look at art, architecture, and friendship.

Alexandre and Aliénor (Christelle Prot Landman) are first introduced as a couple who might as well be divorced; sitting silently at a fancy restaurant dinner and barely looking at each other. While Aliénor expresses enthusiasm and energy, Alexandre is hardly concerned with such pleasantries. Fortunately, a work-inspired trip from France to Italy proves just the right thing, as a chance meeting with architecture student Goffredo (Ludovico Succio) and his sister Lavinia (Arianna Nastro) permits them the chance to bond with younger, more idealistic versions of themselves and get to experience a bit of the lust for life that they have both lost over the years.

“La Sapienza” is a true European film, one where its characters switch freely between French and Italian, as Lavinia delights at the opportunity to practice her French with Aliénor and Alexandre utilizes his perfect Italian as he begrudgingly converses with his eager young protégé. That fluency served as an asset rather than an expression of overconfidence, as it helps both odd couples soak in the culture of their locale. Alexandre’s return to the birthplace of his most respected architectural idol with Goffredo is warmly complemented by Aliénor attempts to help Lavinia overcome her difficulty leaving the house and being without her brother.

There are plenty of humorous moments in “La Sapienza,” many of which arise from the shortness of sentences uttered by Alexandre and his complete unwillingness to open up to anyone. Contrasting his behavior with Goffredo’s optimism and excitement makes for great entertainment, and a fine companion piece to the more pleasant but equally compelling relationship between Aliénor and Lavinia. The film takes a surprisingly religious turn towards it end, but what happens up until then is filled with cleverness, drama, and all the makings of a perfectly charming story.


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