by Jane Reingold, MFT
As Monteverdi's Vespers plays, the camera pans through a series of images: a serene, glistening lake view, St. Peter's Basilica and the sumptuous Roman skyline, close-ups of baroque architectural details, the streets of Paris, modern and grungy. This overture foreshadows an intrapsychic, interpersonal, existential exploration, a move from materialism to mysticism, a spiritual journey cracked open by the wisdom and beauty of a bygone time, and by the healing power of architectural spaces to provide a potential space for personal experience to take form.
A couple sits at a restaurant sipping wine in tandem, dining in utter silence. With each course we increasingy feel their disconnection. Eventually they speak, their staccato sentences delivered via point-of-view shots inviting the audience in, as if they were speaking to us directly, beseeching us to know their pain, ennui, and wounds. In other moments, the two stand shoulder to shoulder looking forward, their faces bearing wrung-out expressions. Through these prolonged shots, the audience glimpses something of each character's internal experience. Much like architecture, this art form allows illumination of an internal experience that otherwise might be missed. The audience is left to linger after many such shots, to engage with what has transpired and with one's own reverie.
Eugene Green's La Sapienza is a beautiful film that viscerally invites the audience into the psychic realm of a disconnected couple as they embark upon a trip to Itay. For Alexandre, a disillusioned architect, it is a quest for deeper meaning and renewal through studying the baroque architect Borromini. Although self-identified as a French secularist aligned with the more rational Bernini, he is seeking the Borromini, the mystical, in himself. For Alienore, the trip is a much-needed opportunity to think. Both of them need time to heal from a past trauma and a sense of ennui.
In Stresa, they befriend a young sibling couple, Lavinia, a young woman with a nervous disorder, and Goffredo, an aspiring architect. Alexandre takes the young Goffredo on a tour of Borromini's buildings, while Alienore stays to nurse and attend to Lavinia. Goffredo speaks of the architect's job to summon presence through light, reflecting the theme of illumination in both art and the psyche that runs throughout the film. In these transcendent spaces, the two men have many intimate conversations. Through these deep encounters, Alexandre finds a liveliness in himself that allows for newfound meaning in his work and his relationship.
The siblings perhaps represent Alexandre and Alienore's split-off selves. Lavinia personifies an ailing and wise part of Alienore, whose maternal instinct is awakened through nursing Lavinia, allowing her, finally, to grieve and let go. For Alexandre, Gofreddo embodies inspiration, hopeful searching, and a desire for introspective dialogue and connection. In both the couplings, transformation and intimacy develop, allowing for a co-creation of meaning that leads to revival and transcendence.