In the “Class of …” series, Nick Rogers takes a monthly look back at films celebrating either their 20th or 30th anniversary of initial release this year — six from 1986 and seven from 1996 (the extra in December’s double-feature column). The rules: No Oscar nominees and no films among either year’s top-10 grossers.

“A book like this is a club sandwich, with turkey, salami, tomato, cheese, lettuce. And the movie is obliged to choose only the lettuce or the cheese, eliminating everything else – the theological side, the political side. It’s a nice movie.”

Those were Umberto Eco’s remarks (circa 2011) on The Name of the Rose, filmmaker Jean-Jacques Annaud’s 1986 adaptation of Eco’s landmark 1980 novel of the same name.

On one hand, how amusing (fitting?) that an internationally lauded semiotician interested in linguistic ambiguity so purposefully minced words with a metaphorically meh response. In Eco’s eyes, was Annaud’s film the lettuce … or the cheese? (Moreover, is theology the salami in this scenario? Let’s hope so because if tomatoes are politics, everyone’s just going to get hung up on proper pronunciation.)

On the other, Eco’s response seems unduly harsh on a film that had to excise Eco’s more postmodern trappings and scholarly sidebars, un-filmable in a traditional sense.

But the filmmakers didn’t simply strip this 14th-century mystery about murder at a mountaintop abbey among Franciscan friars and Benedictine monks down to a tawdry whodunit.

Here, the whydunit matters as much, if not more.

In fact, the film’s idea of meaning-making (how we reconcile life events, relationships and feelings), so central to semiotics, directly apply to its take on theology … or the meat Eco insists is missing.

Bristling against beliefs should be a natural test, and evolution, of faith. And there’s beauty, however brief or bittersweet, in furthering self-awareness whether it strengthens spiritual ties … or severs them clean. Not a bad thesis for a script by committee (which included Howard Franklin, best known as Bill Murray’s collaborator on the underrated Quick Change and The Man Who Knew Too Little).

That The Name of the Rose is also a crackling good murder-mystery should hardly count as a black mark. It’s a dignified Doyle-Christie mashup of sorts, with graphic interludes and propelled by terrific work from Sean Connery — whose mellifluous musings and pontifications are as pleasurable to listen to as they are to ponder.

A year before his Supporting Actor Oscar for The Untouchables, the actor won a Best Actor BAFTA for tamping down his towering presence and retreating within the robes worn by William of Baskerville, which fit as naturally as Sherlock Holmes’ deerstalker.

Boyish is Connery’s brogue as William chases down clues. He’s certainly a fine detective, selling the supremacy of deduction and forensics over dogma and faith. But through exposition and expert body language, Connery makes us question what motivates William more, furthering knowledge or finding justice. It gives a hard edge to the endgame — one that lets us simultaneously marvel at William’s triumph and see how he’s rendered himself an ideological ronin, philosophically humbled and hobbled by horrors of the abbey.

So deeply does Connery internalize William’s intellect, and internal turmoil, that it’s difficult to imagine anyone else inhabiting the role. But Eco reportedly expressed dismay with Annaud’s choice of a star whose nearly decade-long wane in popularity prompted Columbia Pictures to pull funding. (Robert De Niro was also in talks but apparently insisted on making William a swordsman; he’d wield a weapon that year in The Mission, another epic period piece with religious overtones).

That didn’t keep The Name of the Rose’s producers from erecting Europe’s largest exterior sets since Cleopatra — replicating the abbey on a hilltop outside Rome. Annaud was no stranger to visual majesty or prestige productions, having won an Oscar for his first-ever film (1976’s Black and White in Color) and delivering the critically acclaimed Paleolithic-caveman action film Quest for Fire in 1981 (which won an Academy Award for Best Makeup). Annaud later directed The Bear, The Lover, Seven Years in Tibet and Enemy at the Gates, among other titles.

His four-year preparation for Rose pours forth in its pictorial splendor … or lack thereof. Shrouded in fog, the abbey is full of parapets from which to plummet and stones against which to scuttle life. This visual expression of pox descending on piety offers an atmospherically immersive antecedent to this year’s magnificent The Witch, the monastic muck of David Fincher’s Alien 3 or the horrors at Craster’s Keep on HBO’s Game of Thrones. An Escher-like labyrinth inside one of the towers also offers a fine signifier for the Benedictines’ insistence that the only path to salvation is a prolonged, painful one.

Beset by albinism, vampiric nails, rotted teeth, hunchbacked deformities or rheumy eyes, the Benedictines also physically embody the rot roiling in their soul. There’s a fine line between vigilance and violence when it comes to their faith, and Dante Ferretti’s dank, depressing production design shows us that, for most of these men, the abbey is simply a hair’s breadth from incarceration.

Veteran character actors like Michael Lonsdale and William Hickey dot the scenery. But the best performance among them comes from Ron Perlman as Salvatore, a behemoth beset by physical and mental maladies whose gibberish rantings are, as William says, “all languages and none.”

Under heavy Neanderthalian prosthetics akin to those he wore in Quest of Fire, Perlman proves a force of both lighthearted comic respite and palpable pain. To a man so tormented and twisted, the persecution that befalls him comes to feel somewhat like relief.

“Is this place abandoned by God?” asks Adso (a teenaged Christian Slater), William’s teenage charge. “Have you ever known a place where God felt at home?,” he replies.

Much as it does in the novel, Adso’s narration frames the story – which finds the duo atop Italy’s darkest mountain summits in 1327. William has arrived as part of a delegation to debate Christ’s poverty with the papacy. It’s the Franciscans’ symbolic salvo against the selfish bloat they observe taking root in the Holy See. Without underlining it, Rose suggests inherent poverty of emotions in the faithful — that playfulness and penitence should be kept separate and never the twain shall meet.

But the resident abbot (Lonsdale) is more concerned with William’s history as a member of the Inquisition. William served the order when it still asked questions, before it regularly contorted events to suit the answers it sought. For acquitting a man whose only crime was translating a book that conflicted with scripture, William was himself accused of heresy — imprisoned, tortured and forced to recant his principles to spare his own life.

Rose hints that the patronage of Adso’s father has papered over William’s tarnished image, but he nevertheless takes seriously the charge to guide Adso in the ways of enlightenment.

If not necessarily indicative of the dynamic work he’d deliver later, Slater’s broken-voiced squeak and gaping shock at how swiftly these men, including him, will yield to temptation is a nice fit.

A subplot involving Adso’s seduction by a young peasant (complete with an explicitly filmed sexual encounter, tricky given Slater’s age) seems at first like a superfluous shock. But Annaud and company reveal that they are imparting on Adso a carnal knowledge that William has never known — the inevitable moment in which the student surpasses the master.

“A world without love. How peaceful, safe, tranquil … and dull,” William muses upon Adso’s confession with just the right tinge of regret.

The abbot urges William to investigate the death of Adelmo, a young but gifted illustrator and librarian in the abbey’s vaunted scriptorium. It’s a classic locked-room mystery: His body was found dashed on the rocks, as if he jumped or was pushed. But no window from which he could have fallen even opens.

Adelmo’s death has fomented spiritual unease among the Benedictine flock — less out of fear for their lives than some Revelation-ish reckoning sounding trumpets of judgment on their shadowy perversions. The more squalor and sexual frustration have set in, the more fetid of flesh and foul of spirit they have grown – throwing leering, lingering glances among the squatting peasants outside the abbey’s walls.

William begrudgingly accepts the case, and the abbot hopes his intuitive, quick work will forestall the Inquisition’s involvement. But as bodies stack up, the investigation consumes everyone left alive. And it’s not long before the Inquisition arrives anyway in the form of Bernardo Gui, the orchestrator of William’s downfall whose fiery decrees crumble those kneeling before him in futile hopes of forgiveness.

Gui is certain these murders are the result of the peasants’ satanic rites. He’s wrong, of course, but it’s easier to blame cloven-hooved scapegoats than corrupted hearts or clouded minds.

Although Gui doesn’t arrive until the third act, he gets big-boss-man buildup befitting the actor playing him – F. Murray Abraham, in his first film after winning the Oscar for 1984’s Amadeus. Abraham fits the bill of persecutory antagonist with a bellowing presence, but he’s the one area in which Rose wilts.

Late in the film, Gui taps William as the third judge in a trial of those whom Gui suspects of the murders. It seems to set up a knockdown, drag-out verbal showdown — sparks flying a la Spencer Tracy and Fredric March in Inherit the Wind. But William’s inevitable dissent passes in a quick fizzle to fuel a fierier, more violent climax. Obviously, the Inquisition’s hand is there to act swiftly and decisively, but reducing Gui to a glorified cameo after positioning him as the Moriarty to William’s Holmes is a disappointment.

The mystery’s actual resolution is tied to speculative fiction on the fate of Aristotle’s Second Book of Poetics on Comedy, a text long lost to history. Its thematic weight of how two people can bifurcate the same words into pain and playfulness — and how stubbornness masquerading as belief perverts even the purest — lingers in the narrative and in real-world allegory.

All of this would be enough to deem Rose as closely aligned with Eco’s source as it could be while remaining an engaging and enlightening film. But the opening credits say it best, dubbing the movie “a palimpsest of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose.”

A palimpsest is a manuscript on which original writing has been erased to make room for new scribbles, but of which legible traces yet remain. More than Eco’s clunky club-sandwich analogy (served with a side of sour grapes), that’s a poetic description of how The Name of the Rose stands on its own merit — as its own tale, as it should be.