AGORA — Many customers (especially women) have recommended this film to me, and I’m passing the recommendation on to you.
“Agora” means a “gathering place” or “assembly,” and in fourth century Alexandria the typical assembly was more of a hotbed of contending religious forces: pagans, Jews and Christians, each vying to control a city that was only nominally run by a Roman garrison. Alexandria, by then, was famous for its ancient library that was widely considered a repository of world knowledge, as well as for one of its caretakers, a female astronomer and teacher, Hypatia, about whom little is known but her fame.
This film dramatically fills in the historic gaps. It begins didactically (with one of her open air classes) but then develops dramatic heft as it assays the lethal stew of intolerance among the three religious groups as each more and more aggressively comes to contend with the open enquiry of the scientific mind as symbolized and embodied by Hypatia, portrayed by Rachel Weisz. She is the sole woman in this film among pious wolves. Despite periodic academic starchiness, this visually spectacular movie nicely conflates the astronomical and historical in its portrait of the earth’s moral as well as physical place in the universe. And, of course, both tolerance and a respect for science is still something we can stand to be reminded of today.
ARRANGED — Two new grade school teachers—one Muslim, the other Jewish—become friends at a time in both their lives when their respective orthodox parents are arranging their marriages. The film is an affecting portrait of the mutual cross-cultural support that develops between the two instinctively independent women, beloved offspring caught in the vise of a tradition they otherwise feel a genuine part of.
Delicate, humorous and informative, this is a film about the challenges and opportunities of tolerance that offers a sanguine alternative to the hotbed of the intolerant marketplace.