Trying to review The Academy of Muses feels a lot like faking my way through an essay question on an exam for which I’ve barely studied.

A professor of philology, which apparently is a thing, teaches an advanced course in Barcelona for which we get a front row seat. Professor Pinto’s class seems to offer in-depth discussions on what makes women muses, the importance of poetry in understanding romantic love, and the role of passion in being fully human. Director José Luis Guerin spends a lot of time in the classroom but the spirited discussions and debates continue once class is dismissed. Most of the best scenes let us listen in on private one-on-one discussions with the professor and various students, between the professor and his skeptical wife, and between fellow students. The ethics of Pinto’s apparent affairs with his younger students are also examined.

I won’t pretend to understand The Academy of Muses better than I actually did. I wasn’t even sure whether or not I was watching a documentary or a regular feature at first. (It turns out that it’s not really a documentary but it’s complicated because Pinto is in fact a Philology teacher). Mostly though, it’s the discourse that often goes over my head, particularly during the many scenes dealing with the writings of Dante, which I wasn’t nearly cultured enough to follow.

Which isn’t to say that I didn’t find many parts of Guerin’s film engaging. I, as I’d imagine most viewers who are not so well-versed in the classics are likely to, felt most comfortable with scenes where students were applying their readings to examples from their own love life. Their struggles with coming to terms with their anxieties and heartbreaks helped me relate to a film where even the English subtitles seemed to be speaking in a language that was foreign to me.

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