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The Academy of Muses

(La Academia de las musas, Josť Luis Guerin, Spain, 2015)


 


José Luis Guerin’s The Academy of Muses is among the most exciting and stimulating films, from anywhere, of recent years. Armed with extremely modest resources – a digital camera, small crew, an ensemble of non-professional actors – Guerin and his collaborators began with the documentation of a university seminar (led by Rafaelle Pinto) in which this gregarious Professor tries to convince his (mainly female–enrolled) class that the ancient concept of Woman–as–Muse remains a viable and important concept for our modern, fallen world – and for the renewed (or persistent) possibility of creating poetry within it.

From there, the assembled team collectively weaves a highly intriguing fiction concerning the various relationships (on various levels) between the teacher, several of his students (played by Mireia Iniesta and Emanuela Forgetta, among others), and his no-bullshit wife (Rosa Delor Muns). There are discussions, excursions, confrontations … and finally, even a few surprise revelations. 

A plot summary does not even begin to capture the dynamic texture and movement of this great film. As if to answer all those dour critiques that pegged Guerin as a idealising-fetishist-voyeur guy-type after In Sylvia’s City (2007) and its various offshoots in video, photography and installation, Guerin upends his own seeming auteur-system by staging the relentless comedy of women challenging the hero about his views – often in stunningly vibrant, intellectual exchanges. (Pinto, it should be added, gives as good as he gets.)

But, more than that, The Academy of Muses is a genuinely dialogical film, in its entire structure and form. (On this plane, it would make for an intriguing triple-bill with Joseph Kahn’s splendid Bodied [2017] and Erik Anderson’s unbalanced but captivating My Thesis Film [2018].)  I have rarely felt such a vivid sensation of a movie as an agora for contesting views, and clashing viewpoints.

A very verbal work – and a dramatic essay about speech itself, as gesture, act and posture, power and seduction – The Academy of Muses nonetheless manages to achieve wonderful, new effects of mise en scène (using frames crammed with faces, reflections in glass, superb close-ups) using the digital image.

© Adrian Martin February 2016


Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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