Eugène Green

Eugène Green, La Sapienza, 2014, 35 mm, color, sound, 101 minutes.

In La Sapienza (2014), the filmmaker Eugène Green’s fifth feature-length work, a middle-aged French architect named Alexandre (played by Fabrizio Rongione) travels to Italy to finish a book on the Baroque architect Francesco Borromini. His wife, Aliénor (Christelle Prot), comes with him, and the two find spiritual renewal in conversation with a pair of teen siblings named Goffredo (Ludovico Succio) and Lavinia (Arianna Nastro). La Sapienza is distributed in the United States by Kino Lorber and begins a run at Lincoln Plaza Cinema in New York on March 20, 2015. Here, Green speaks about the film.

I COULD NEVER MAKE A PERIOD FILM. For me, the present moment includes both the past and the future. I believe that the essential problem of our current world is that people inhabit a false present and lack an inner spiritual life. I invoke Baroque art and traditions in my films because in looking to the Baroque, we can see possibilities for a way of living that is not only material but also spiritual; and I invoke it through filmmaking in particular because, to me, cinema is the art form that is most adept at expressing the living possibility of spirituality.

I directed theater for many years, and for me, theater and film function in very different ways. Within the world of theater, all is false, and it is necessary to pass through absolute falsity in order to achieve something genuine. The contrary is the case in cinema, whose raw material is always fragments of reality. A viewer can look to a great film and see these fragments assembling themselves into a new reality that exists only on the screen, a reality that also becomes the viewer’s during the period of that screening.

When I made my first film, Toutes les Nuits (2001), I encountered a system that I have continued to use up through La Sapienza. The filmmaking language has remained more or less the same throughout my films, always driven by a search for simplicity and by a desire to reach essential things.

The way that my films present dialogue is very important. I always make it a point to show the person who is speaking, often in such a way that we can see him or her gazing directly at a conversation partner. The viewer thus receives all of the speaker’s energy. When people converse, it is important to absorb the force of communication that passes through words and looks; and when the conversations in my films turn most intense, I place the camera between the scene’s two characters and witness the energy that comes from both of them.

My previous feature, The Portuguese Nun (2009), focused on warm and open people, while the figures in La Sapienza are more difficult and isolated. At the new film’s outset, the married couple of Alexandre and Aliénor have lost the ability to communicate with each other. These two people must actively create some distance between them and each engage a younger double in order to better perceive their problems—Goffredo in Alexandre’s case, and Lavinia in Aliénor’s. Doing so helps them bridge their abyss.

The architect Alexandre in particular creates modern projects that he realizes have been made soullessly; he senses in his Baroque predecessor Francesco Borromini’s work, by contrast, a spiritual life that allows him to freely traverse light and space. In visiting Borromini’s churches and sojourning within the country surrounding it, he comes to understand artists as playing the roles of sacrificial figures, ones who leave behind works for the good of others as though those works were Communion bread and wine. Borromini saves him and the film’s other main characters by enabling them to have inner regenerations within a space that he has left behind where they can more clearly see themselves.

My usage of mirrors, and of mirroring figures, is something that comes to me very naturally. I believe that the most important thing that the Baroque has given us is the notion of oxymoron—a double-sided mirror that shows us how two seemingly separate truths can be one.