Like an Oliveira film shot by Kaurismaki. Hilariously deadpan, and I was digging all the bold, formal framing, the editing games, the odd performances. Everyone has a clear, straight-ahead gaze while speaking, declaring their line then pausing just the right amount before the next line, reminding me of Sicilia!
And since I was enjoying watching the movie so much, and since I hadn’t read anything about it before watching, it snuck up on me late that it’s a version of my least favorite movie logline: cranky guy (Fabrizio Rongione, who I just saw as Riquet in Rosetta) is saddled with kid he barely knows, they go on road trip and learn stuff from each other.
Less dramatically captivating, his wife (Christelle Prot of every Eugène Green film) stays behind and visits Riquet’s sister, who suffers from fainting spells and is stressed that her brother is leaving soon to attend architecture school. At the end she feels better and Riquet’s horizons are broadened and he teaches the cranky guy the importance of light and everyone’s happy except me, but the first 80% of the movie looked fantastic so I can’t complain.
Combining the knowingly arch style of Abbas Kiarostami (whose Certified Copy towers over and belittles this film) with the didactically educational passion of your favorite art professor, La Sapienza alternately feels like a self-reflexive love story or a haunted history lesson—its best scenes play like both. Full of bright ideas but so unsure of how to humanize them (the film’s characters often feel like they’re simply supporting the structures they’re in, as wispy and translucent as the ghosts to which they’re constantly alluding), La Sapienza manages to effectively condemn modern life for its lack of memory.
The director as a wise Iraqi refugee:
For all this, La Sapienza is a pretty lovely film. Symmetricities are everywhere, starting with that opening architectural showreel, which deliberately avoids perfect symmetricity … In Alexandre and Goffredo’s slowly-warming-up relationship, there’s much talk of what purpose these buildings serve. The older man, a former builder of factories, wants to focus on anti-urbanist structures; his would-be student is even more utopian/regressive in his ideals, positive that architecture’s function is nothing less than to create spaces filled with people and light. The light will protect and inspire the people, who will complete the empty space, which is precisely the function they serve for Green. Rather than merely acting as reference points for scale, it’s the human presence (in the work itself and those standing within it) that makes architecture worth looking at.