Hope­ful tale and gor­geous views

Los Angeles Times - - MOVIES - — S am Lubell

On the sur­face, writer- di­rec­tor Eugène Green’s f ilm “La Sapienza” is slow, strange and awk­ward — but stick with it and it may win you over.

The f ilm fol­lows the strug­gles of French ar­chi­tect Alexan­dre ( Fabrizio Ron­gione) and his wife, Alienor ( Chris­telle Prot). The two are alien­ated from each other and from their lives in gen­eral, as we see through the di­rec­tor’s headon shots, cropped like pass­port photos, and the de­lib­er­ate pauses be­tween me­thod­i­cal state­ments, like a lan­guage tape re­peat­ing def­i­ni­tions over and over.

When the two jour­ney to Italy, spurred by a work call for Alexan­dre, an un­ex­pected en­counter with young sib­lings Gof­fredo ( Ludovico Suc­cio) and Lavinia ( Ari­anna Nas­tro) changes ev­ery­thing. Alienor stays with Lavinia, who’s suf­fer­ing from a ner­vous dis­or­der, while Alexan­dre con­tin­ues with Gof­fredo, an ar­chi­tec­ture stu­dent.

The re­sult­ing jour­neys move in­ward as much as out­ward, tack­ling the pair’s emo­tional ob­sta­cles in a di­rect way that few movies dare. The chil­dren, as well as var­i­ous strangers, il­lu­mi­nate hard re­al­i­ties to Alexan­dre and Alienor, help­ing them to re­cover from past trau­mas and to re­dis­cover the “beauty and light” that had been miss­ing from their lives. The strange di­a­logue, while a bit gim­micky and at times ex­as­per­at­ing, starts to make sense, like recita­tions of po­etry or pieces of a dream. It’s all about f ind­ing wis­dom.

And the slow move­ments ( as well as the lan­guage of light and beauty) mir­ror the gor­geous views of clas­si­cal Ital­ian ar­chi­tec­ture: stun­ning domes, col­umns, cupo­las and colon­nades in­fused with light, depth and a rich­ness that’s al­most be­yond words.

Usu­ally the ar­chi­tec­tural views are look­ing up­ward. You dis­cover why in one of Alexan­dre’s lessons to Gof­fredo ( one of many pow­er­ful tru­isms de­liv­ered in the movie): “We en­counter many ob­sta­cles that draw us back to­ward Earth, but in­evitably we find our­selves mov­ing up­ward again. Un­til, via an in­escapable tra­jec­tory, we reach a source of light.” It’s a hope­ful mes­sage in what is ul­ti­mately a very hope­ful film.

The pace can feel plod­ding, but the ob­ser­va­tions on hu­man frailty and re­demp­tion more than make up for it. De­spite for­ays into the head, it’s the movie’s heart that makes it spe­cial. “La Sapienza.” No MPAA rat­ing: Run­ning time: 1 hour, 40 min­utes. In French and Ital­ian with sub­ti­tles. Play­ing: Laemmle’s Royal, West L. A.

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