Antonio Gaudi is an extremely famous Spanish architect. The Frank Lloyd Wright of Spain, he designed apartment buildings, parks, business offices and his crowning achievement/failure: a very large cathedral. His work is littered throughout Barcelona and the suburbs and stand in direct contrast with newer more conventional buildings. You can tell its a Gaudi building because of the unusual shapes. The buildings never seem to have a hardline edge to them. Instead they have oscillating lines and organic structures. This documentary takes a cinema verite approach to Gaudi’s structures. Something that I have never seen outside of the traditional cinema verite subjects (people). It is fascinating stuff.
The film opens with the daily activities of normal Barcelonians. You see people at the market (it seems that only women are fishmongers here… pretty cool), children playing, a traditional circular dance, and various other activities. These activities are done in the shadow of Gaudi’s work, at once a part and separate from the structure itself. It is off-putting to see a woman answering phones after you have ascended with the camera a flight of twisty stairs. Despite this building being a wonderous beauty, it is still used for a practical purpose and have people doing normal business stuff to do it. The camera moves seamlessly over each structure’s facades, giving a detailed look of the subject matter. You become aware of the little details Gaudi has decided to adorn his buildings with. Small engravings, tile work, and little bumps in the stone all speak to Gaudi’s genius.
But this is not just a flat introduction to Gaudi’s work like you would see on PBS. There is no context for how Gaudi worked, no talking heads expounding the virtues of his legacy, not even an orientation on which building is which. Instead you get a feeling for Gaudi. You get to see what makes these buildings so unique. There is no barrier to the image. And yet each camera move, each close up, each cut was an artistic move on the director’s part. He chose to show you that seating nook close up even though you saw it from far away a shot before. But now you see that Gaudi put a little tile mural on the ceiling that you wouldn’t have known about if he had just been satisfied with the long shot. Each attention to detail reflects Gaudi’s own attention to detail. The only thing that you cannot learn from this documentary is how each building feels. If only each viewing came with samples that you would caress in your hand while seeing such breathtaking images. That would be awesome.
Gaudi’s work is known as the reason to visit Barcelona. It is strange that someone outside of Spain did such a moving documentary. But I feel like Teshigahara saw these buildings in no way that a native who lives with these images every day would see them. He sees each small thing, knows each nook and cranny, and expresses such a fervent passion for buildings that have probably felt very common place to residents. Sometimes you have to see your city, your art through the eyes of a stranger in order to truly get what it means.