Friday, July 8, 2011

#425: Antonio Gaudí

(Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1984)

Criterion says this film is "Less a documentary than a visual poem," and it's not an overstatement - there's barely any dialog or even action throughout its barely feature-length running time. That's ok when the images of the film are works by Gaudí, shot with an enormous amount of reverence and skill by filmmaker Hiroshi Teshigahara (whose 3-film Criterion boxset I have yet to dive into). I'm not going to go so stereotypical as to say that his presentation has an Eastern austerity, but I do think the way the work is presented gives the impression of an outsider struggling to understand not just an artist's output, but the culture which produced such an artist. There is a love of Gaudí's buildings, but also a sense of mystery and otherness - Teshigahara manages to make his subject exotic without qualifying it as a novelty.

One interesting thing about the film was how little it reminded me of my own first-hand experiences with Gaudí's buildings. Rather than evoke the same emotions I had while traveling through Barcelona, Teshigahara's presentation emphasized the strange and oddly beautiful elements of his work. Rather than simply documenting Gaudí's work, the film was conveying the experience of seeing the buildings that was specific to Teshigahara. This is a sharp reminder of the subjectivity of film and the immense control a filmmaker can have over both his or her subject and the audience.

The 2-disc set has an enormous amount of material surrounding the documentary, including more discussion of Teshigahara's personal experiences around Gaudí's work. This makes the entire set a rich and fascinating look at the crossing point of two artists from different eras, different cultures, and different mediums. The film itself is conversely minimalistic and contained, but through the simple presentation of architectural landmarks, it may speak more to the form than the content.

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