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By T J Luxford on 2.2.2024

T.J. Luxford visits the Gulb

Our esteemed film critic T.J. Luxford visits the Gulb…

The other night I watched the Italian film In Memoria di Me, which is directed by Saverio Constanza and based on the 1960’s novel Impure Tears – The perfect Jesuit by Furio Monicelli. It was one of the strangest and most affecting films I have seen, filmed entirely at Basilica di San Giorgio Maggiore on the Venetian island of San Giorgio, which for me made it visually engrossing from the outset. The architect who designed the Jesuit monastery in the 16th century was called Andrea Palladio, and the protagonist symbolically shares his name. The young Andrea, is a wealthy and handsome man, who has decided to renounce earthly pleasures for the pursuit of spiritual fulfilment in a harsh and austere Jesuit monastery. He is also given the further duty of having to spy on his fellow novitiates which creates a sinister tension in the film.

The wonderful cinematography simultaneously gives the impression of great space and intense claustrophobia, as it contrasts the vast ornate halls with the cramped and sparse cell that Andrea inhabits, his only connection to the modern world a laptop he uses to compose homilies. The island location heightens the sense of separation from the outside world, of being even outside of time that the viewer is also a part of. This separation is illustrated poignantly in two particular scenes. The first is when a large ship on the laguna passes the vast window at the end of the dormitory, giving the illusion that the monastery is moving, when actually it has gone nowhere, for hundreds of years. The second is one of the best pieces of cinema I have ever seen; one night Andrea is woken up by the sound of explosions as he walks over down the dormitory it becomes apparent that there is an enormous fireworks display outside, the colours reflected in the marble floor. The novitiates silently gather at the window and we see them looking from within at the festivities outside, and then to contrast our freedom with theirs, we see the fireworks display as they would appear to those watching at the annual Venice Carnival. The image of those young men watching fireworks from within a monastery is utterly unforgettable.

This is a film, that took a long time to sink in and the more I return to thinking about it the more pleasure I gain from having watched it. The atmosphere in particular is powerful with the soundtrack of ethereal choral music an appropriate accompaniment to the visual beauty of the setting. Just the idea of standing alone in a sixteenth century Basilica and listening to this sublime music, as if it channelled directly from the heaven into the Duomo, was almost too beautiful to bear. I have a strong personal connection to Italy, and although I am agnostic, the more I see of this country and its history, the more I understand the historically irresistible pull of the Catholic religion and its intoxicatingly powerful artistic representations of the faith. Is it possible to though to fully comprehend these aspects of religion, without actually believing? Are these moments of artistic revelation worth the self-sacrifice and adherence to outdated, patriarchal values? I find the Catholic Church as an institution troublesome, its stance on contraception, abortion, homosexuality and women’s rights dangerously influential in inhibiting progress in the developed world as many young people in Italy also do. This film needed to be made though, because there is a crisis of faith in the Catholic Church with fewer and fewer novitiates entering monasteries every year, so it is a world that may no longer exist in the near future. Though it shows the sinister underside to the monastery, I think it is careful to be as neutral as possible in giving the viewer so much time and space to decide what they think for themselves. As unremarkable as the austere, all male environment is to many, for me it was fascinating to see what happens behind those iron doors. And the answer is simultaneously far less and far more than I could ever have expected.

Comments

  • La forza delle tue parole supera ogni limite

    By c.c. on 7.2.2024

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  • T. J. Luxford?

    By Luke on 7.2.2024

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  • beautifully written.

    By Anonymous on 7.2.2024

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  • WOW!

    By Anonymous on 7.2.2024

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  • I feel you have done a great job of capturing the austere mood of this film and have highlighted some subtleties which I managed to entirely miss.
    T.J Luxford I salute you.

    By Anonymous on 6.2.2024

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  • utterly spiffing, absolutely top-notch, not the sort of writing you should just scan…

    By Anonymous on 6.2.2024

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  • Unforgettably powerful writing T.J. 😉

    By website-editor on 5.2.2024

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  • Dat artikul iz well wikid Luxford-you iz da bomb

    By Gary Barlow on 5.2.2024

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  • Mr Luxford, you write like a dream!

    By Anonymous on 5.2.2024

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  • Do you work for the Venice Tourist board by any chance?

    By Anonymous on 3.2.2024

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