Fascinating, and you will probably never have a chance to see it
Part of Roberto Rossellini's Italian TV series on philosophers in history (other titles: Socrates, Blaise Pascal), this three hour chunk of television is, like the other titles, riveting in its own unique way. Granted it is a talk fest, but imagine listening to the leading lights of Renaissance Italy, Holland, and France talking for three hours on the subject dearest to their hearts: scientific investigation and its relation to the Church (which meant only one thing at the time, of course: the Roman Catholic church). It is an edifying three hours, but, this may surprise you, a very entertaining three hours as well. Negative points, however, to the rather annoying Mario Nascimbene score (though annoying in a way that doesn't really distract from the action). Rossellini's attention to quotidian detail is always fascinating. (In "Socrates," for example, Socrates goes to market, and his fish is wrapped to go -- in a piece of lettuce!) Shown at the Cinematheque Francaise in a Rossellini complete retrospective, in a print that was, unfortunately, badly faded. But that's videotape for you. FOLLOW-UP, summer 2009: My title is no longer valid, now that the Criterion Eclipse series has released this in a pristine print. The score (now that I have recognized that all the Nascimbene scores for Rossellini are rather interesting wallpaper) annoyed me not at all. While less well-sustained than "Blaise Pascal" (a major masterpiece), "Cartesius" is still quite interesting, though maybe not exactly riveting, for Descartes, it would seem, was not as fully integrated a personality as was Pascal. This is nicely summed up in a scene where Descartes is about to abandon (for work) his child and her mother. "She is beautiful because she is perfect," he says. "For me she is a miracle," says Helene, the mother. "No, she is not a miracle. She is a perfect machine of nature."
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