The Academy of Muses: The invention of love
by Alfonso Rivera
- Master of indie José Luis Guerín presents a dialogue-focused film teetering between fiction and documentary, which philosophises on the origins of passion and desire
A film-buff friend of mine jokingly used to exclaim, "Eric Rohmer has done so much damage to cinema!" every time he saw a film that conveyed its message not through images, as seventh-art conservatives require, but instead through the unrestrained verbiage of its characters. Directors ranging from Woody Allen to Ingmar Bergman can all be considered guilty of this, as they are brilliant when it comes to writing dialogue that not only makes us laugh or cry, yet which also allows turbulent undercurrents to dampen the foundations. Catalan filmmaker José Luis Guerín, who in his last fiction film, In the City of Sylvia [+see also:
film profile] (2007), hardly allowed his actors to utter a word, seems to make up for that dearth of dialogue by going to the opposite extreme with his new movie: The Academy of Muses [+see also:
interview: José Luis Guerín
A professor (Raffaele Pinto) talks, and his students, mostly comprising women, listen to him in order to subsequently reflect out loud and talk about his arguments. We are in a classroom at the University of Barcelona, in a seminar about poetry where the shadow cast by Dante's The Divine Comedy looms large. As the audience, we become just another silent student watching what seems to be a documentary, much like the magnificent Work in Progress, which earned Guerín a Goya in 2002 in that category.
However, at home after the class, when the professor engages in a tense conversation with his wife, with shadows of suspicion and scepticism cast over it, we begin to make our way inside a faded, fictional environment. The camera then starts to be positioned behind panes of glass – a flat or car window, for instance – leaving its characters trapped in fish tanks in which the outside world is reflected, the world that we belong to, and which they seem to be avoiding. In this fashion, an interesting game of mirrors develops, which gradually influences a discourse that scrutinises, amongst other intellectual themes, the role that muses play in the life of an artist, theorising about the literary invention of love and questioning the (noble?) seductive power of teaching.
And all of this entails non-stop talking: conversations between the professor and some student female or other, between him and his wife, or between those participating in the seminar, as they debate – in Italian, Catalan and Spanish – the issues being dealt with in the classroom. And then, in a cafeteria, a vehicle or a park, we witness the passing on of the cultural (and sentimental) legacy from one generation to another as a woman recounts the legend of Daphne, Apollo and Cupid to her daughter.
Guerín used a small camera and benefited from the help of a minimal team for the shoot for The Academy of Muses, which took place in Naples, Sardinia and Barcelona; it was the first Spanish film to win the Golden Giraldillo at the Seville European Film Festival (read more). Previously, this film was screened at Locarno (read the interview), and it is now being released in Spain, where it is sure to fascinate lovers of Guerín's (and Rohmer's) films and annoy their detractors (as well as my friend).
(Translated from Spanish)