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second spring
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The Pleasure Garden

There is a land of the living and a land of the dead

and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.

Thornton Wilder, The Bridge of San Luis Rey

“When one accepts that death is a part of life, death is no longer feared and one is no longer afraid of mortality in any respect. But while the fear of death exists, one reacts to conclusion of a relationship and thus, of love, in the same way." These words, written by R.W. Fassbinder, create a bridge – a sort of symbolic image in this story – between the land of the living and the land of the dead, looking closely at the death of love in relationship with physical death. One of the key elements in Second Spring is undoubtedly the reciprocal consolation between Andrea, who has never been able to overcome the death of his wife Sofia, and Rosanna, emotionally challenged by the end of her relationship with her young husband, Riccardo.

Andrea is an open book. At a first glance, he seems very gentle, almost too submissive. His personality and creative temperament aren't enough to awaken in him vibrant emotions, even when they are called for. He spent his entire life accepting everything that came on his way, as if that was a part of some inescapable plan. And, paradoxically, as an architect, he is asked to modify pre-existing realities according to his whims, though with some limits. At 50, he is the same as he used to be, nothing has changed, for the most part. If, as they say in medieval theories of humours, phlegm comes over us in the last stages of life, Andrea embodied that stagnation, without the hope of a more passionate side, metaphorically Spring and Summer. Though, it is true that he has experienced the melancholy of Autumn, with the passing of his wife: moreover, eight months pregnant. An episode which he had accepted supinely, without a reaction, without searching for answers, without trying to shed light on unclear circumstances.

Then, the young Hikma arrives in his life: in the "secret garden" of his soul, he allows the unthinkable substitution. A classical situation, often seen in art, of perturbing images: doppelgänger and creatures without shadows, phantoms and diabolic possessions, identified in the past with melancholy. A vertigo, a woman who lives twice: Hikma – whose name means wisdom in Arabic, even tracing the etymology of the Greek name Sofia - is tied to Andrea by invisible threads. She becomes a living part of his garden, a metaphor from the beginning of the world: lush and green while life is good, uninviting and hostile as events turn.

In Edgar Allan Poe's "The Domain of Arnheim" - which also inspired several Magritte's well known paintings, quoted in the museum scene - a man suddenly becomes extremely wealthy and decides to dedicate his entire life to creating marvellous gardens, merely for the pleasure of being in constant contact with beauty, bound to a life of nature out in the open space and at the same time to the love of a woman, far removed from any other ambition. These were the four conditions he established as the key to true happiness: four being a "magic" number that re-occurs throughout the film.

It is as if Andrea, for the first time, stops living life accepting everything blankly, without question. He starts to understand how much his life is enriched by being able to get involved concretely and physically; this man who is used to relating to the world from a purely intellectual perspective – his antidote to the invisible and silent poison deep within his soul. Failing to recognize the depth of his feelings, without grasping fully what this sentiment he had always deemed impossible could bring to him. Andrea finds the strength within him to change the events. The fight itself is what enables him to find peace. He feels able, in the proper season, to reap what he has sowed. Violets, in particular, always regarded as a symbol of remembrance: they are in fact also called pansies, from the French “pensée”, and in Shakespeare's Dream – explicitly mentioned in two scenes - “love in idleness”, to imply the image of a lover who has no other employment than to think of his beloved. So they become for us a leitmotif, amplified by the recurrence of the color purple (the bridge, the table, the dress, the bathrobe), in many cultures associated with mourning rituals, but also referred to metamorphosis and erotic fascination.

In this sense, Hikma's influence, though genuine and involuntary, is decisive. She’s a courageous woman, having grown up in a small, provincial town, close to nature. Wild and sensual, Hikma transforms the garden – for a long time Sofia's exclusive territory, and now abandoned to the wild – in a place of growth and healing. If a garden is still synonymous with suffering – always living, even in the mild season, in that state of “souffrance” well described by the Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi – Andrea's garden opens up to Hikma's eyes as a theater of uncertainty and renunciation: but she manages to bring out his magical nature, to turn it into a reassuring dwelling. Having accomplished the feat, her maturation process can only be completed by abandoning the place of past happiness, without looking back. On the other hand, we have the character of Riccardo, clever and smart, who is going in the opposite direction from Andrea, from hard, physical, practical labour which leaves him dissatisfied towards creative endeavours that often results into nothing.

Arid, even violent, the representation of the world around the characters, outside the oasis of happiness depicted by the seaside villa: in a city - in this case Messina, but what is shown on the background is common to many Italian cities, especially in the South - irreparably injured by illegal development and subject to the infringements of building regulations, poisoned by cars and heavy vehicles. Meanwhile, the city grows poorer and increasingly more sterile: stores go out of business, cinemas turn into supermarkets, museums are deserted. But Andrea's hard working path is bound to change in the ending: if for once true talent triumphs over dishonesty and abuse, this leaves hope for the arrival of a new season…

The decision to divide the film in chapters corresponding to the seasons, was not done merely to represent the changes within our lives over time as we age, but also to demonstrate the complexity of our interpretations of life's events as well. This is evident in New Year's Eve – which assumes a different meaning in the life of each of the characters. This night is described in a rather nervous, fragmented manner, as a reminiscence of the past – four times we see that night, each from different perspectives. Directly in contrast to the present, reflected in a more traditional style, with occasional daring plots, opening and closing each chapter according to each character's point of view, within each season. In the final section, the story continues as if it was told with two voices, emphasizing the contrasting views. On one hand, we've got Hikma, who with her breathlessness and anxiety embodies Springtime, on the other hand, we've got Andrea who is forced to face the challenge of a new life – in effect, his second spring.