If this is how Fendt’s actors really are, I’d find their company in real life even more uncomfortable than it is on screen. Nevertheless, their intellectual absorption—which isn’t the same as self-absorption, although it’s often close—is such an anomaly in contemporary cinema that you can’t help being intrigued by it, even mesmerized at times.
A modest exercise in 16 mm that opens with a lecture on Dante and follows a group of young intellectuals—friends of the filmmaker—whose engagement in the nuances of language, philosophy, and theology is as earnest as it is unusual—universes away from what you might imagine preoccupies the youth of today.
The warmth of the 16mm images and historical distance of the simple optical soundtrack combine a tour de force of the lapsed art of reading, speaking and articulating thought with the materiality of an earlier time.
Scene by scene, text by text, taken individually, these lessons richen the mind (and again, I didn’t realize, first time around, that we were drawing a full circle). Taken as a whole, however, you begin to worry.
As with Straub-Huillet, much pleasure and invigoration is supposed to come from the audience encountering a book or text. . . . When Evelyn reads of and speaks about Dante’s character of Pia de’ Tolomei is the moment Classical Period epitomizes a cinematic ideal: the actress seems to at once embody the book she’s reading, taking it into herself, and also transform it, reveal it through her own version of the story it tells.