Skip to main content

Agora Review (a TIFF Preview)

Agora (2009)
Directed by Alejandro Amenábar
Written by Alejandro Amenábar & Mateo Gil
Starring Rachel Weisz, Max Minghella, Oscar Isaac, Ashraf Barhom, Michael Lonsdale, Rupert Evans, Sami Samir
North American Premiere at TIFF in a Gala Presentation

It's 4th Century A.D. in Alexandria, Egypt, one of the last bastions of a Roman Empire that's crumbling from within due to a number of elements, and the film makes clear that one of those elements is the growing early Christian movement. In the city's legendary library, Hypatia, played by Rachel Weisz, a Platonic philosopher, mathematician and astronomer of the old Roman order teaches her pupils and acts as guardian of the city's store of knowledge until the Christian hordes - who, like any revolutionary movement of the disenfranchised throughout history, have more or less degenerated into a mob thirsting for revenge - come to destroy it.

Don't let the film's two hour runtime, or the weighty subject matter that touches on the nature of philosophy, religion, and humankind itself, put you off. Be patient during the first few scenes that seem somewhat formulaic; set up, exposition, impossible love triangle between Hypatia, adoring student Orestes and her slave Davus (Minghella), and so on. As the story unfolds, after Hypatia is left to her teaching and research with what she's been able to salvage from the library, that formula is fleshed out in solid performances and a story that weaves the lives of Hypatia, former students who've taken up prominent places in government and the burgeoning church hierarchy, Davus, who becomes one of the church's thuggish enforcers, and others into a portrait of an era in flux. As the tide of Christianity rises, its early leaders flex their leadership muscles with increasingly violent and intolerant results, (with a particularly stinging indictment of the personnage we now know of as St. Cyril of Alexandria, played by Sami Samir, pictured below,) but no group comes off particularly well here. From the old Roman pagans who convert en masse only when it's clear they can no longer continue in their position of privilege, to the Jews who eke out bloody retaliation of their own, the film takes a dim - and historically accurate - view of the tribalistic nature of them all. Even Weisz's sympathetic Hypatia is not without her flaws.


I've been in love with Rachel Weisz since the Mummy movies, and I can think of few (if any) other actors who could imbue the role with the necessary intelligence and humanity. There are several scenes where Hypatia ruminates on and tests her various theories, and Weisz brings them to life with a kind of single-minded and bright eyed fascination that's entirely convincing. She never takes a false step here. Also strong is Oscar Isaac as Orestes, the former student who becomes Prefect of the city, hopelessly in love with her and doomed to watch, powerless, as events spin out of even his control. The visuals are sumptuous and obviously big budget, with a cast of hundreds, period costumes and lushly recreated scenarios. One quibble though - I couldn't quite grasp the significance of the repeated earth-from-space shots, they seemed incongruous. (teaser below)



It's a thought provoking film that poses questions about the penchant of human society to rebel against the moderating and rational voices of reason and learning with the volatile mob mentality of religious intolerance which resonate to this day. Many of the characters are actual historical figures, including Hypatia herself, and while little remains of her work or theories, there are indications she was onto a theory of the elliptical nature of planets that orbit around the sun about 1,200 years before Kepler's "discovery".

The verdict: you'll hate what it says about humankind, but love Rachel and the rest of the cast in this interesting film. Check out screening times here.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Film News - imagineNATIVE Embargo Collective at the Berlin Film Fest

Hot Off the Presses:
(and gosh, doesn't that expression sound quaint these days?)

imagineNATIVE’s EMBARGO COLLECTIVE
to have its European Premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival 2010
(Internationale Filmfestspiele Berlin 11.-21.02.10)

(Toronto, February 3rd, 2010) The imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival is pleased to announce the official selection of the festival’s Embargo Collective programme for the Forum Expanded section of this year’s Berlin International Film Festival. This programme of works was commissioned by the imagineNATIVE festival for its 10th anniversary and will have its European premiere Monday, February 15th, 8.30pm at Cinema Arsenal 2 and a repeat screening Wednesday, February 17th, 4pm at CinemaxX 6.

Curated by imagineNATIVE’s Artistic Director Danis Goulet, the Embargo Collective is an international group of seven Indigenous artists at the forefront of the changing global landscape of Indigenous cinema. Inspired by Lars von Trier’s The Five Obstructi…

Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company Spring 2013 Toronto Performances

From a media release:

The new season brings
Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company
to new heights and new audiences

March 20-24, 2013 - A Night in Madrid
April 25-28, 2013 - Annual Toronto Season - World Premiere of Portales

TORONTO : Following on the heels of Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company's (EESDC) 30th anniversary year where its production Aguas/Waters was named one of the top five dance shows of 2012 by NOW Magazine, the early months of 2013 are full of excitement and possibility for Esmeralda and the company, which brings the finest flamenco and Spanish Classical Dance to Toronto stages.

March 20-24, 2013 - A Night in Madrid
Company dancers Esmeralda Enrique and Paloma Cortés perform Spanish Classical dance with the celebrated Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir for A Night in Madrid featuring the Iberian flavoured music of composer Luigi Boccherini who made his home in Spain. His work is infused with the sounds of Spanish and gypsy folk music.

March 20-24 …

Guitar Rock | Happy Freuds - Echo Of Sounds Independent: May 31, 2019

Guitar Rock
Happy Freuds - Echo Of Sounds
Independent: May 31, 2019
Stream/Buy on Bandcamp
Stream it on Spotify

With tight musicians and intriguing lyrics, Happy Freuds delivers high energy guitar rock with stylistic flair on Echo Of Sounds, their debut release. Produced with a minimum of overdubs or fixes, the album consists of a mix of original material, rearrangements of works from others and selected, less known, classic rock.

A kinetic rhythm section is the bones of the music, offering interesting patterns that augment sometimes unexpected harmonic changes. It's brainy rock, in other words, meant for music lovers who can appreciate the quality. Teo's vocals are raspy and expressive, growly when necessary - perfect for the musical mode. Teo also covers lead guitar, adapt at ear worm leads, with a tone that can be clean or dirty as required

Their sound ranges from straight up hard rock in tracks like The Mountain to the pop-flavoured acoustic Background Noise and folky To …