La Sapienza (Eugène Green, 2014)


La Sapienza opens this week at the Northwest Film Forum. I caught the film last fall at the Vancouver International Film Festival and the following is adapted from  the dispatch I wrote last year.

Like director Eugène Green’s other films (I watched 2001’s Toutes les units and 2004’s Le Pont des Arts in preparation for the festival, having never seen any of Green’s other work), La Sapienza features an unusually declamatory acting style, with a Bressonian minimization of emotion (though notably not as extremely robotic). Also Bressonian is a penchant for introducing scenes and characters with close-ups of their feet, or rather, their shoes. Green apparently is a big fan of shoes (not that there’s anything wrong with that). He films his characters’ conversations at right angles, a two-shot with them facing each other, perpendicular to the camera, followed by medium close-ups of each actor as they face the camera directly and speak in turn, Green not cutting until they’ve finished what they have to say. This combination of effects reminds me very much of Manoel de Oliveira, though the artifice is apparently indebted as much to Baroque theatrical technique as any cinematic fore-bearer. Green is said to be an expert in this, and knowing absolutely nothing about the subject myself, I’m in no position to disagree.

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