The Academy Of Muses


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Academy Of Muses
"A rather hit and miss affair."

"Ma pauvre muse, hélas! qu'as-tu donc ce matin?" asked Baudelaire. In the cold light of day, there's something unhealthy about the muse. José Luis Guerín's pseudo-documentary follows one man's pursuit of her through academic discourse and the seduction of his students, trying to snare her with words, to bring her into focus - and bringing himself into focus in the process.

Philology professor Raffaele Pinto plays a fictional professor of the same name, opening the film with a rapid-fire lecture room discussion which might well have presented more of a problem for an amateur academic than it does for an amateur actor. His class is composed almost entirely of young women and his project is to determine whether or not it's possible to teach them to become muses so that they can go out into the world and inspire a creative revolution or act as a 'civilising influence'. His argument that being a muse is an active role does not sit easily with all of them, however. Why should they set aside other ambitions to focus on inspiring men? Ensuing arguments draw them further into the charismatic professor's orbit and, in some cases, into his bed.

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Passion isn't necessarily about desire and desire isn't necessarily about the genitals, argues the professor, also asserting that these extra-marital liaisons are part of his research. His wife (Rosa Delor), who interprets herself as his long-term muse, seems more disappointed by the intellectual naivety or pretension of this than by the physicality of it. She has seen a lot of young women come and go and doesn't feel threatened by them - but should she? Is her position at risk, and to what extent has she chosen that position for herself; to what degree is she too a product of Pinto's manipulation? His process of dazzling intellectual ingenues is so fluent that it's hard to determine how much of it remains conscious, if it ever was.

There are at least five languages in this film (it's difficult to be precise because the status of languages and dialects is often disputed) and conversations sometimes include several. The impossibility of translating directly between them, and the cultural shifts in perspective this illustrates, emphasise the limitations of words at the same time as celebrating them. This is important in a film in which the different meanings individual characters attribute to certain words - not least 'muse' itself - underline the misunderstandings that lead them to interact as they do. It's a factor that becomes increasingly significant as events come to a head towards the end.

During the first half of the film, viewers might be forgiven for thinking that they were watching a series of sketches with little narrative connection. This is partly because Guerín wants to explore literary tangents - there's a particularly vicious stab at the tradition of pastoral romance - and, perhaps, partly because he wants to illustrate the disconnectedness of aspects of the fictional Pinto's thinking. This he also does visually with shots through glass evoking the fragmented self. Unfortunately this repeated motif is not elegantly composed and will simply look scrappy to many viewers. Other scenes are framed with what might be deliberate artlessness. This may be intended to enhance the documentary illusion, or to make viewers feel like voyeurs, but it too often distracts from the sophisticated scripting that ought to be the film's focal point.

Ultimately, The Academy Of Muses is a rather hit and miss affair, suggesting that some strange malady has distracted Guerín's focus.

Reviewed on: 15 Nov 2016
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The Academy Of Muses packshot
A professor teaches a class on muses and seduces several of his students in the process.

Director: José Luis Guerín

Writer: José Luis Guerín

Starring: Rosa Delor, Emanuela Forgetta, Patricia Gil, Mireia Iniesta, Carolina Llacher, Raffaele Pinto

Year: 2015

Runtime: 92 minutes

Country: Spain


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