Following in the footsteps of Julie Taymor, who set her adaptation of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, Titus, and others who have adapted works of antiquity set in the present day, Esme von Hoffman has brought us Ovid and the Art of Love. Set on the backdrop of modern-day Detroit and the reign of Caeser Agustus in Ancient Rome, we learn the story of Roman poet Ovid and his contribution to the resurrection of democracy in Rome.
The film starts when a Detroit middle school student is assigned to read about Ovid in class. While he is walking through the streets of Detroit, we see his imaginings start to take place on the same streets. Ovid’s life is carried out through the student’s fantasy. It starts when Ovid (Corbin Bleu), a young poet, is summoned by the emperor to start a career in law. He wants to be a poet but goes to school at his parents’ behest. There he meets Maxamillian, or Max (Sam Haft), another poet/lawyer, and Agripinna (Ashlee McLemore). It’s Max who takes Ovid to his first poetry slam, where he does not do well. Eventually, Ovid becomes a renowned love poet, writing his book about the art of love. However, since Emperor Agustus (John Savage) is all about family values, Ovid’s poems that promote infidelity are seen as treasonous. Agustus also exiles his own daughter Julia the Elder (Tara Summers) for similar reasons and later imprisons his granddaughter Julia the Younger (Amara Zaragoza) simply because his wife tells him to do so. Ovid meets Julia the Younger later when he is imprisoned for the second time and discovers that Julia the Younger is part of a plan to overtake Agustus’ throne to reinstate a democratic government.
“Julia the Younger is part of a plan to overtake Agustus’ throne to reinstate a democratic government.”
The most fascinating thing about Ovid and the Art of Love is its juxtaposition of political problems faced by ancient Romans and those faced by U.S. citizens today. To set the film in Detroit, where we see America’s neglect of it’s less-fortunate most clearly, was very poignant. It’s sad but also wonderful to see Detroit as it stands. Once a major city during the automotive boom of the early 20th century, it’s a husk of its former self. Tons of hollowed out buildings, boarded-up storefronts, and more…all of which are becoming more commonplace around the country. Augustus’ conservative family values agenda that neglects veterans, the homeless, and the unemployed mirrors the same actions that have taken place in our country not just now but at several points in our country’s checkered past.
Esme von Hoffman wrote an amazing, complex, funny script that tells a story of the past and the present simultaneously. It touches on censorship, hypocrisy, and many other hot-button topics. Corbin Bleu is incredibly charming as Ovid, and Amara Zaragoza is wonderful as Julia the Younger. John Savage as Agustus, is the kind of character you love to hate, with good reason. The rest of the cast, from the smallest role, are all excellent.
Altogether the film is one that should be seen by anyone interested in ancient or contemporary history as well as those who enjoy modern adaptations of classical literature. I actually found out more than I ever knew about Ovid and the reign of Agustus, so if you’re looking to get some education on the classics, you might want to see the movie as well. Overall, it’s a great film that I enjoyed, so, please check out Ovid and the Art of Love when you get a chance. It’s definitely worth two hours of your time.
"…looking to get some education on the classics, you might want to see the movie..."