In the middle of his life, a successful French architect realizes he hates his most well-regarded work. Realizing that he has lost his way, he decides to go down to Italy to reconnect with the work of Borromini, which had inspired him as a young man.  Along the way, he meets a young Italian architectural student, a pure soul who helps him rediscover himself.

Architecture, Italy, what’s not to like?

Borromini was a genius architect of the 17th C, whose reputation has long been overshadowed by his contemporary, the more flamboyant genius Bernini.  The title of the movie (which means, roughly, “wisdom” in Italian) refers to the chapel of Sant’Ivo de Sapienza, widely regarded as Borromini’s masterwork.  Working with a small pre-existing building, Borromini somehow created an illusion of space and light, through the use of “fool the eye” architectural elements and the brilliant use of natural light — techniques largely abandoned by modern architects.  (The chapel is part of a private university in Rome, and is famously hard to access, being open to the public only a few hours a week.  It’s well worth a visit, if you’re ever in Rome.)

I’ve been told that I like small movies where not much happens.  This is definitely one of those.  Conversations between characters are weirdly stylized, almost theatrical, particularly at the beginning of the film.  I think this is intentional – the guy’s facial expressions become more human as he starts to reconnect with the idealistic young man he once was.  So stick with it.

In French and Italian with English subtitles.  Available on Netflix DVD, and streaming on Netflix and Amazon instant video.

Extra Credit — Shroud of  Turin

In one of the scenes in the movie, the architect notes that the photographs of the Shroud of Turin are more interesting than the artifact itself.  I did a little research after, and it turns out he’s correct.

The Shroud of Turin is notionally the burial shroud of Jesus Christ.   From the time the Shroud was first mentioned in the 14th C, until the late 19th C, viewers saw little more than a series of brown smudges vaguely outlining a human form.  Imagine the surprise, therefore, when in 1898 a reverse negative by an amateur photographer unexpectedly revealed a detailed figure of a human body, complete with marks of torture consistent with crucifixion.

The Shroud is generally believed to be a medieval forgery, albeit a high quality one.  But why would a medieval forger create an image with more detail than contemporary viewers could discern?  Even more intriguingly, how did they create the image?  It remains a mystery.