(Photos courtesy of The Academy of Film and The Arts)
Q&A: Filmmakers of “The Living Tableau”
By Sarah Komisky
Passion week culturally, historically, and spiritually have been a time of special observance of Jesus Christ and his sacrifice of love for all humanity. While there have been many film adaptions that highlight the death and resurrection of the Savior, none have chosen to specifically focus on the last supper. That is, until now. Creator and renowned director, Armondo Linus Acosta along with the powerhouse Italian cinematic team consisting of cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, production designer Dante Ferretti, and set decorator Francesca Lo Schiavo, came together to bring “The Living Tableau” this April. The short film is a recreation of Leonardo da Vinci’s infamous painting the Last Supper, artistically delivered with passion and hope for audiences in 2021. Here is what the filmmakers had to share with me on this masterpiece connecting to the love of God.
Sarah: First of all, what an honor it is to speak to all of you today. This piece was incredibly moving, comforting and beautiful. Together, you have won nine collective Oscar wins. What has it meant to work on this film with one another?
Armondo: I think it’s about life. We like to be with people that we love, people we respect and admire what they do, how they live. If they are artists and filmmakers, and you are a filmmaker, you love to work with your own kind. When I was given the grace to honor Leonardo, who was one of my first mentors — I was in love with someone’s work before I even knew what love was all about. So, when you are given the grace to create this, I thought, let me get people whose work I really respect. The art of cinema is more than an art; it is a lot of hard work, learning techniques and equipment, and all of that. All to achieve beauty. That is my quest, and it happens to be the quest of all of those that participated. We were together in making this. It is a collective. Film is, by its nature, a collective art. So, you just collect the best people, those who are going to help you, hopefully, achieve something of beauty and value. Really simple. Birds of a feather try to flock together.
Sarah: There has been much media centered on Jesus. Such noteworthy depictions have been the musical “Jesus Christ Superstar,” Mel Gibson’s epic film, “The Passion of the Christ,” and now, the popular streamed series, “The Chosen.” Yet, this film is different because it centered on a work of fine art by Leonardo da Vinci. Share about what that means to you and how you hope the power of art can bring something unique when it comes to media representation of Christ and the Easter narrative?
Vittorio: Armondo has passionately repeated, it is all about beauty. For him the essence, as I understand, is how he connects his relationship with Jesus and Leonardo, art and God shall we say.
So, I think each one of us has his own, or tries to build some kind of main issue in his own life. You can give a word like beauty. What I understood, thanks to my specific experience, that the meaning of my life is this: Find balance between opposite elements. You can see this in all of Leonardo’s work. I didn’t know that in the beginning. Sometimes I was asking questions: Why am I different from my wife? Is my life during the day, when I experience the physical elements, or during the night, when I’m dreaming? Why am I attracted by the journey of the sun during the daytime, and the journey of the moon at night? Why is consciousness different from the unconscious? So, every new idea in literature, in painting, in life, in work, in love, whatever, is the chance to go above consciousness. This is fantastic.
Sarah: Traditionally, when we think of Easter, we think of Good Friday, we think of the Resurrection. Yet, this film is letting us focus on the Last Supper. Our theme this month at our magazine is “The love of God.” How do you think this specific event of the Last Supper best showcases the love of God for humanity?
Armondo: There is a clinical, intellectual answer and then there is an answer of passion. The intellectual answer is that God created all of this, believe it or not. Anyone who doubts that is, embarrassingly, a fool. The passion, the love, the beauty that man is able to express, to create even, it’s all connected. We call it religion, we call it the love of God, even if we are not religious. How many pray that their cat is not going to die or that they can have children? It’s all about God. And when you tap into the joy of being in that environment, that is subtle art; there’s no question about divinity, there is no question that someone, something created all of this. That’s the joy! That’s the joy! It’s not a pompous answer. It’s really the truth, my truth, and I think the collective truth.
Sarah: The artwork represents God at the center of his friends. At the center of humanity. What does that represent to you?
Dante: To be able to reproduce The Last Supper of Leonardo da Vinci was emotional. I am a Catholic and a believer, and on top of the incomparable beauty of the original painting, I was involved in the meaning that the Last Supper has in the life of Jesus. The betrayal of Judas leads to Jesus’ arrest, his Passion, his Resurrection, and the institution of the Eucharist.
Sarah: When it comes to the set. How did you want to breathe life into this piece of art?
Francesca: The Last Supper of Leonardo da Vinci is a sublime art work and I tried to catch every possible detail, by diving into the rare and, at the same time, real atmosphere of the painting. It was a great privilege to study the law of perspective and its proportions in every single piece of this masterpiece. I had a special care of the arazzi – tapestries hanging on the walls of the room, and of the big table and tablecloth made of ancient fabric that I aged myself (by making it look older and by painting it). With an accurate documentation, I chose the tableware, the glasses and the food, by matching as much as possible the painting of Leonardo.
Sarah: Da Vinci brought fine art media to his generation. As a filmmaker in the 21st Century, you are bringing digital art to this generation. What does that mean to you?
Armondo: That adds a double edge to it, because I’m old enough to remember when there were no zeros and ones. Those zeros and ones have been in math, in the law of ciphers, distance, measure, weight. But in the arts, we don’t think of that as being something so mechanical or so digital, as zeros and ones. But I’ve created… in this case you are interviewing me because of “The Last Supper, the Living Tableau. ” With digital you can achieve what a brush could do, what writing with mud on your finger on a stone wall could do. But there is no brush, there is no pigment, but you can express yourself with it, because that was also created by God. Digital is not just a creation of man. It is the next stage of the development of understanding: ‘That that is, is’. And ‘That that is, is’ created all of this. So, I find this really very simple. You just have to learn and understand that there is no brush with which you can paint. And so, we were duplicating one of the great masterpieces. And, excuse me, but I think collectively, we did a pretty good job of adding up all those zeros and ones to come up with something that, I think if Leonardo was sitting here next to me, he would say, “You did pretty good kid with all those zeros and ones.” He wouldn’t say: “ Ha ha ha. ” He wouldn’t – I know he wouldn’t. Because what did they use before brushes and paint? Ah!
Sarah: The apostles are waiting for Jesus to arrive at the tableau at one point in this film. This is different from the painting. There is a waiting period, and it plays into the lighting in the narrative. Talk about the moment and the significance of it as a cinematographer.
Vittorio: It was truly my dream to light “The Last Supper ” since 1975 when I first saw the original. So many attempts were cancelled, but I was believing, and Armondo called me. When you believe in something, when you love something, you make the possibility that this something will arrive! So there was some talk. I understood that the idea was to reconstruct the Last Supper in reality, as it was there in the painting. And I asked myself, what can I add on top of the fact that we have to visually reconstruct the Last Supper? There is something that in time will reveal to us a kind of mystery, a kind of drama that becomes important in this waiting. So I had the idea of using the sunset light and I was trying to think; I had to do it in an incredibly strong way. It had to be, “Oh my God! What’s happening? ” Everybody was saying, “No, we’re going to have the apostles over there.” Usually, all the light goes on The Apostles, on the silhouette. But this was a kind of entrance, symbolically I was thinking of the idea of the sunset, so they can be waiting. Of course, we do this in cinema – everything is over in a very short time, two or three minutes, whatever, something that can actually happen maybe in an hour. It’s step by step. Only when Jesus comes, it is finished! And the daylight is coming. The moonlight…we have to find the balance between the sun setting and the moon rising, because the symbol of Leonardo was to express a kind of balance. Armondo said, “Fantastic, Vittorio, it will help the drama of the film!”
Sarah: This was an historic event, so how did you want to make this moment believable and relevant to people in 2021?
Francesa: Leonardo da Vinci painted the Last Supper and represented the farewell of Jesus from his disciples before his passion, death, and resurrection. Even though there is the dramatic aspect of this historical event, in the painting, we can breath peace and love from Jesus. Not only towards his disciples, that have always followed Him, but also towards all mankind. This is the universal message of “The Living Tableau.”
Sarah: Re-enacting this incredible moment in time, I could only imagine being incredibly moved. In the documentary of the making of “The Living Tableau.” you mentioned how you wanted the actors to evoke passion. What was the experience like being there in person and how did it move you personally?
Armondo: In this case, I think it is a rare situation and I’m very quick to tell the story. Dante Ferretti and Vittorio Storaro built. We had to sketch, we had to do research, we had to get all the materials, the lights, it takes all that to make the zero and one films. Suddenly, the crew members put down their hammers and their paint rollers. They took off their overalls and went to hair and make-up. Then they were up there. And every one of those Apostles is one of my students — some of them for over 20 years, when they were children, and they were up there. And so, I didn’t have to look far to be able to instill passion in their performances…they were really performing. We have a love affair. I’m a meditation master; I’m their teacher and I’ve taught them about the abilities they have in their minds. So, it is a joy for me. It was thrilling. As you know very well, I saw that I looked like Taddeo. Not one of the most important, he is not Mathew, or John, or Peter, or certainly not Judas, but he is Taddeo. Who is Taddeo? He is the far guy on the right, with white hair and a long beard, and he looks too old to be happy. I look like this guy, so I thought well, if Hitchcock can do it, I can do it. I worked on a Hitchcock film, “The Birds.” So, I thought, ‘I’m going to do it and I had fun.’ It was fun, it was beautiful. They were my students, they were not actors; in fact, none of them have trained to be an actor. So, it wasn’t difficult for me to have one heaven of a good time.
Sarah: This film will pay special honor to those who suffered loss and isolation during the pandemic. What is your hope for the viewer who experiences watching “The Living Tableau?”
Dante: I really hope that watching “The Living Tableau” will be a moment of peace and comfort to everyone during the pandemic, and that they can feel joy during the viewing.