No point in watching this movie if not as symbol
7 February 2017
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is one of the most richly symbolic movies I have watched in a while. In the absence of such content, the whole movie might be the series of hollow, grand quotes that some reviewers have recognized in it. This story is a tale of ascent that leaves behind soulless art and philosophy into a conversion of the soul to superior wisdom. The main characters never meet in the flesh. One is Sarah, a singer specialized in Baroque music who gives a superb rendition of the Lamento della ninfa de Monteverdi. The other is Pascal, a graduate school dropout who has given up finding the philosophical relevance of surrealist mastermind André Breton, to the disappointment of both his dissertation adviser and his girlfriend, who is an intense, committed pre- professional philosophy student. What unites this couple (if we may call them thusly) is the love for the Baroque period and the poetry of Michelangelo. In contrast, institutionalized artists and thinkers take a serious beating in this movie. They are either super-intellectualized, as Pascal's girlfriend, conceited as his adviser, or manipulative as the maestro and the famous actor. The plot is minimal. Sarah has a live-in boyfriend, Manuel, who adores her but cannot understand her feelings of disconnection from the daily bustle, and eventually jumps into the Seine from the Pont des arts. The former student breaks ties from academic philosophy and literature, and the personal relations with go with them, with the help of her rendition of The Nymph's Lament by Monteverdi. In the end, Sarah and Pascal have a talk on the very bridge from which she jumped. The final scene is the only possible form of reconciliation with reality, through the bridges that music and non- philistine art. Pascal comes to the verge of committing suicide as well, but manages to convert his refusal of philistinism into a "positive" quest for with the complicated, contradictory totality of the world, which was still accessible to Baroque humankind. Other pervading motifs are the bridge and music (which in fact are one and the same thing). Shortly before killing herself, Sarah dreams that she is trapped in the midst of a river, unable to find either banks. This brings to mind the Styx river, that guards the entry of Hades, in Monteverdi's Orpheus. Sarah feels trapped in the sense that, to her, the river does not unite two banks; it only banishes her to a non-place. In the end, she and Pascal learn, in case a dead person can learn anything, that music is a bridge that unites the whole. To her, the bridge between the banks of the Seine becomes a means of union. This is also stressed by Tenko, the traditional Japanese play that Pascal watches, about a magic drum that descends from heaven. Again, there is no point in watching this movie if not as symbol of the soul's journey to unite the many opposite "banks" of reality through music and philosophy. No wonder the Baroque is its most important historic reference, since this was the last period to take seriously this kind of Neo-Platonic speech. This was the last moment in European culture when smart and respectable people might still define music as a form of thinking about the invisible connections of the whole.