Agora (2009)


Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BBB

Spain/Malta, 2009.  Mod Producciones, Himenóptero, Telecinco Cinema, Canal+ España, Instituto de la Cinematografía y de las Artes Audiovisuales, Government of Malta, Nimar Studios.  Screenplay by Alejandro Amenabar, .  Cinematography by .  Produced by .  Music by .  Production Design by .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by .  

After decades of dry, corny epics that purport to bring Biblical times to life, an atheist’s dream has been put on the big screen: the presentation of the point in ancient history when Christianity spread like a cancer and destroyed everything good about life in the Mediterranean basin. The story is a highly emotional one as it centers around the greatest philosopher of her time, Hypatia (Rachel Weisz in a regal performance) whose skills and abilities become more and more controversial as religious fanaticism sweeps Alexandria and the pursuit of knowledge becomes suspect in the face of the solidification of faith through fear.

It’s fascinating how well Alejandro Amenabar makes the story appropriate to our time so many centuries later, but (dare I speak against my godless people), he should be admonished for not presenting a more accurate picture: the fellows that destroyed the library of Alexandria in the name of Jesus Christ were among the least privileged and educated in their society, and no one is going to care about an ancient scroll if they cannot read it, particularly when it is housed in a building that only a small percentage of the population is privileged enough to make use of.

Amenabar’s plotting is more than a bit uneven, seeming to want to let Weisz go on forever about her theories of the universe, and who can blame him considering she does such a beautiful job with all her dialogue, but he also wants to make sure that action film lovers enjoy the scenes of massive crowd onslaught as well. The film really should have been about one or the other, and trying to include both dilutes the intensity it could have had, particularly as the director is usually an expert at stories that concentrate on lone, isolated individuals—witness the paranoia of Open Your Eyes‘ topsy-turveyed hero, the terror of a ghost-plagued Nicole Kidman in The Others or Javier Bardem begging for death in The Sea Inside. What Amenabar does do extremely well, though, is recreate the ancient world with beautiful detail, relying less on computer generated imagery than his contemporaries normally do and getting a real feel for the period.

Toronto International Film Festival:  1999


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