Saturday, 20 March 2010

Agora

In Agora sometime in the 391 AD we meet the Alexandrian scholar Hypatia. She’s the daughter of Theon and by all means and purposes seems to be the leading scholar of her era. She teaches a class full of men. Great men look to her for advice. While Hypatia’s skill persists a raging social war grows between the pagans and the Christians, who are now coming into their own as a new movement. The story is, in many ways, a look at the conflicts of Christianity with the Pagans and then subsequently with the Jews. But it is not a story about Christianity; I’m not even convinced it’s a story about religion. But it is an important story. It mixed history with fiction, but the moments that are most harrowing are those with the least of dramatic licenses.
Amenbar thrilled with The Others in 2001 and though I can’t recall The Sea Inside clearly I know it was good. Agora is based on a true story, though the usual literary licences are taken. Hypatia was a woman before her time teaching many and the film’s characterisation of her is accurate, for the most part. It throws a wrench into history with the introduction of Davus – a slave of Hypatia who becomes swept up in the movement of Christianity. He pines for his mistress as does Orestes, a nobleman of sorts. But Agora is not a love story either – at least not of the romantic nature. The first half of the film reaches its conflict when the pagans and the Christians engage in an all out battle. Hypatia is not necessarily a piteous pagan, but her loyalty lies in their systems of education. She refuses to conform to religion of any sort, instead urging her students to think of each other as brothers. As the pagan temple is raided towards the middle of the film Rachel Weisz perfectly conveys Hypatia devotion to the written word. It’s the only time in the film where we see anything less than valour in our heroine. Yet Hypatia is not a saint. She’s not imbued with many faults, but she is still as real as can be as played by Rachel Weisz. Perhaps she is a bit like Weisz’s Tessa, but that doesn’t point to a lack of diversity from Weisz who excels here giving a performance that I find close to perfection.
Agora is not a film for the fainthearted, but it’s not a film that aims at tearing down Christianity as others have claimed. The dramatic licenses taken by the writers do not include their account of the conflict in Alexandria during the period. In fact, the final execution in the film is where the Amenabar back tracks on the horror of the real world since the victim in reality was actually skinned alive as some history books recount. But I digress; Agora is not a history lesson. It’s not a geography lesson either even though the sincerity with which it searches for truth is captivating. The thing is, I’m uncertain what Agora really can be defined as. But it’s a film that thrills me on every level – from the formidable production design, the lovely costumes, the enchanting music, the lovely shots and the brilliant acting. I’m uncertain as to how Agora will fare as time goes by, it steps on so many toes in achieving its end I suppose that conservatism will win out and it will be shut out from being as critically acclaimed as it should be. It stands now though as an excellent piece that should not be missed. Max Minghella would make his father proud as the torn slave and Oscar Isaac takes his stock role and turns it into something special. I already wonder if anyone else can enthrall as much as Weisz has. There are nine months left in the year, but I have a feeling none will impress me as much as Weisz here…
         
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6 comments:

CrazyCris said...

Glad you liked it so much!

It's been a couple of months since I saw it and my memories of it remain good! I'll probably be getting it on dvd when it comes, which actually should be soon! Ironically the dvd will be cheaper than the soundtrack which I haven't bought yet... argh!

And yes, Weisz is luminescent in this! :o)

Mike Lippert said...

I knew the title of this movie sounded familiar and as I read your review I realized that I had read the script to this movie over a year ago. I had no idea it was even out yet, let alone coming to DVD soon. Did it go to theaters? I can't remember if I liked what I read, I'll have to go back and find my coverage. Good review by the way.

Jude said...

Not to take away from this post (Agora does sound reallllly good) but I saw the post below about FRIENDS and got totally excited. Do NOT eliminated TV from this blog! I try to update mine with a few (mostly Friends related somehow or other) TV tidbits. TV is important! It was home to FRIENDS for ten years.

Okay I don't want to sound like an obsessive fan anymore so I will be going! Could I BE any lamer? No, no I could not.

CrazyCris said...

Mike, Agora is about to hit dvd here in Spain where it was in the theatres last Fall! (although filmed in English like The Others, it's still a Spanish movie!) I don't when it gets a US release...

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

mike sorry for the late response. it hasn't been released in the US yet (i believe in the summer it will have limited release).

jude OK! OK! nothing's wrong with obsessing about friends.

cris it really is excellent, i'm wondering if i should have just given it that a...

Julian said...

I saw Agora a while ago on nteflix. I think it began out good, but i feel like it ran into pacing problems around the middle point which it never quite recovered from imo

But i had no complaints about the acting.