La Sapienza

Jun 18, 2015

Light, loving, and arty. It's great summer fare.

La Sapienza

Grade: A-

Director: Eugene Green (Toutes les nuits)

Screenplay: Green

Cast:  Fabrizio Rongione, Christelle Prot  

Runtime: 109 min.

by John DeSando

Love is difficult enough in any language and art form, so layer a French film in a Swiss-Italian setting (Ticino is in southern Switzerland) with an architecture motif, and you have an insight into what makes it all work—light. La Sapienza will indeed make you wise if it doesn’t confound you with its arty dialogue.

Most of the screenplay is poignantly presented with slow theatricality, sometimes as if the characters were in a documentary talking directly into the camera. But American-French writer-director Eugene Green brings powerful emotions out of his four principals even when they speak without an ounce of naturalism. Love is in the words aided by the light.

The middle-aged architect, Alexandre (Fabrizio Rongione), is visiting Ticino to study the work of 17th century Baroque architect Francesco Borromini and to be inspired. The charming Bernini would have been a better inspiration than the melancholic Borromini, but, hey, our architect captures a good vibe no matter.

His wife, Alienore (Christelle Prot), a group psychoanalyst, loves the introverted scholar even dispelling the overtures of a very young architect, Goffredo (Ludovico Succio), the purveyor of the light philosophy to her and her husband.  Completing the foursome is Goffredo’s pre-Raphaelite-like sister, Lavinia (Arianna Nastro), who gives Alienore more strength to love and live than she already has.

Architecture becomes more than enveloping space as it provides the angle of light to incite true love. Unsurprisingly, the loving brother and sister (close to too loving) have much to teach about the purity of love and the love of architecture. La Sapienza is a moving tone poem, albeit eccentric in dialogue and light on conflict.

In contrast with Noah Baumbach’s comedy, While We’re Young, which has a younger couple confounding the adults, La Sapienza is witty and accessible, entertaining and underplayed.  A wise summer choice in a spectacular but droll European setting. Light even if it sounds heavy under my keystrokes.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at