|Agora film set in 4th century Egypt|
|Friday, 30 April 2010|
Agora a film set in 4th century Egypt that doesn’t involve lost treasure, monsters or magical artefacts, according to Channel Online
Instead, we have a beautiful reconstruction of Alexandria at the time that religious conflict destroyed the fabled library.
Hypatia (Weisz, superb) teaches science and philosophy to a multi-cultural classroom, but this melting pot city is about to boil over as the Christians turn on the Romans and their pagan gods, then decide that they don’t much like the Jews either.
A historical film built around ideas, Agora has structure and dialogue reminiscent of theatre, but opened out with the scale and visual splendour that only cinema can achieve.
The effects are seamless – I couldn’t tell where the sets ended and the CGI began – but crucially, director Almenábar resists the cliché of sending his camera swooping around the CG city.
With faultless costumes and attention to detail, this clearly cost a pretty penny. I don’t know how the Spaniards who funded this cerebral, talky film thought they’d see a profit, but bless them for having faith in intelligent cinema.
Even though the film is in English, it clearly isn’t made with the American market in mind, being openly critical of Christianity’s bloody history. It goes further, depicting religion as anti-knowledge, anti-culture and anti-history.
The wrecking of Alexandria’s library at the hands of Christians was a tragedy, but it’s something that still happens today.
Whatever you think of the war in Iraq, there’s no doubt that it has been a cultural disaster, with many historical treasures from the cradle of civilisation lost to looting, vandalism or destruction.
If this sounds heavy, well, Agora isn’t always light on its feet, and character development sometimes takes a back seat to religious and philosophical arguments.
There’s the thrill of scientific discovery too, as Hypatia works out planetary motion 12 centuries before Kepler.
But Hypatia had the twin faults of being a scientist and a woman – things that Christianity has no truck with. It’s hard to dispute Almenábar’s argument that religious intolerance has stifled human progress, but there’s a terrible inevitability to these events, a cascade effect once religious fervour takes hold.
So whilst Agora is an engrossing vision of human history, there’s a misanthropic note too, especially when Almenábar takes a bird’s eye view of tiny people scurrying through the streets, killing each other and burning books whilst appearing no more significant than ants.
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