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Filmmaker brings da Vinci’s ‘Last Supper’ to life
Imagine that you find yourself quietly seated in the Upper Room on that sacred night that we now commemorate as Holy Thursday. Strains of sunlight illuminate a table surrounded by the 12 most intimate followers of Jesus Christ. From your vantage point, you feel the warm sun as it pours through the windows, lighting up the pewter plates and offerings of food and drink arrayed across the table. You hear the men murmur to one another, with John and Thomas at the center and Judas half-hidden in the shadows. After a moment, Jesus enters the room, drawing all eyes, including your own, to his face as he takes his place at the center of the table. Offering a blessing, Jesus takes the bread before him and holds it aloft. Transfixed, you contemplate the source and summit of our faith: the Eucharist.
The work of art “The Living Tableau” by acclaimed filmmaker Armondo Linus Acosta offers an innovative, meditative way to contemplate anew the iconic masterpiece “The Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci. Inspired by a lifelong love of da Vinci and modernizing the “tableau vivant” style of employing a silent group of people arranged to represent a scene or incident, Acosta’s collaboration with Academy Award winning cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, Academy Award winning production designer Dante Ferretti and Academy Award winning set decorator Francesca Lo Schiavo is an homage to the famous masterpiece.
Currently “The Living Tableau,” whose planned distribution was stalled by the pandemic, is being shown exclusively through the EWTN Global Catholic Network and also on their social channels. The first showing on the network was on Easter, and it is being broadcasted for about two weeks on the network. Plans to release the nine-minute production on additional platforms have yet to be announced.
The film was also shown in person in at least three important venues: in Jerusalem on a spot where Jesus walked, historically considered by some the childhood home of the Virgin Mary at the Church of St. Anne, uniting many faiths and cultures, invited by a Rabbi in the Muslim Quarter in The Old City of Jerusalem, and organized by Women of Faith for Peace; in Milan at an UNESCO World Heritage Site, Santa Maria delle Grazie, where Leonardo’s original mural stands; and in Rome at the Church of the Artist with appreciation and support of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communication, the Office of Social Communications of the Diocese of Rome, the Ministry of Culture of the Italian Government and the Italian Film Commission.
Beyond the visio divina meditative experience, one compelling feature of “The Living Tableau” is its evocative score, a 1971 recording of Rossini’s “Stabat Mater Dolorosa,” performed by the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, with conductor István Kertész and soloists Luciano Pavarotti, Pilar Lorengar, Hans Sotin and Yvonne Minton. To the opening strains of music, the viewer witnesses the radiance of a setting sun across the countryside as perspective slowly and intentionally shifts into the interior of the Upper Room.
In a nod to Alfred Hitchcock’s cameo in “The Birds,” Armondo Linus Acosta cast himself at the table as Jude Thaddeus. The other apostles and Jesus were cast from Armondo’s longtime and devoted crew. As carpenters, painters, costuming, gaffing and other trades professionals, they were intimately involved with all the works that took place on set, from preparations for filming to post-production efforts. Then they stepped in front of the camera, wordlessly turning art to life. The impact of these men, all untrained as actors, is captured in their characters’ wordless gestures and their obvious devotion to and love for Jesus Christ. They invite us to consider ourselves as guests at the Last Supper.
Inspired by the exacting attention to detail that was a hallmark of Leonardo da Vinci’s work, Acosta scrutinized every small detail of the masterpiece with an eye toward exacting replication. To aid the actors in maintaining their intentional positioning over several days of filming, Acosta and the team designed plaster casts for the actors to step into for filming. Pewter plates that were exact replicas of those in the painting were acquired in an antique shop in England. The fish was measured with specificity. Even the diameter of the orange was reproduced with great care.
The end result is a film experience that invites its viewer to contemplate not just the legacy of a world-famous painting, but more importantly the message of what was happening that night in the Upper Room. Acosta has described “The Living Tableau” as a “21st-century digital painting.” The producer and director called the opportunity to present the film to Pope Francis and to give the pontiff a bas relief of “The Last Supper” as “extraordinary,” adding that he was delighted by the pope’s response to the project. Acosta hopes that those who have the opportunity to view and interact with “The Living Tableau” will contemplate the work’s beauty as an homage to Leonardo da Vinci’s legacy, but also that they will emerge consoled and trusting in God’s plan and inspired by what they experience.
To learn more about “The Living Tableau,” visit TheLivingTableau.com.
Lisa Hendey writes from California.