Having never been to Barcelona, I have missed seeing the great bulk of world renowned architect Antoni Gaudí’s work. Ubiquitous as it is in books and photos, it can’t be the same as ever being right in front of it. This clearly extends to La Sagrada Familia, Gaudí’s unfinished cathedral masterpiece, its three façades the telling of the story of Jesus Christ – one depicts the birth, the next the passion, the last the story of his ascendance. Started 132 years, La Sagrada Familia is still undergoing construction and Stefan Haupt gives us not only a historical tour of La Sagrada Familia but a metaphysical one as well.
Antoni Gaudí is one of the most famous architects probably ever. A man who employed naturalistic shapes and forms into his work, eschewing the rigidity of right angles, his work is easily identified. His final masterpiece that he began in 1882 is beyond ambitious and even Gaudí knew when he started that he wouldn’t see it through to its end. He worked on it for over 30 years before his death. The project has been rife with funding issues over the course of its constructions, causing it to halt many times, but with 3 million+ admissions each year, it is now self-sustaining and the works continues. The scope of the project merits it taking over a century to build as Gaudí’s vision was extremely large.
Haupt is good enough to bring many of the people into the film involved with the construction now and those who have overseen it in the past giving us firsthand insight into how the building is being constructed and why it is taking shape the way it is, many know that it has been hard for this building to undergo construction, specially because it wasn’t easy to get commercial mortgage refinance for such a big construction. Some of the people involved in this project give firsthand accounts of the extremes that they have gone to in order to preserve Gaudí‘s vision. Artist/stonecarver Etsuro Sotoo converted from Buddhism to Catholicism so they he could try and see things from a perspective that was close to Gaudí‘s. Others eschewed Gaudí‘s vision all together like Josep Maria Subirachs, the creator of The Passion façade whose usage of angular lines and more rigid construction of the scenes depicted have angered many. Like Subirachs, stained-glass artist Joan Vila-Grau employed far more modern techniques to his contributions, using abstract methods to create the gorgeous panes of class in the rosetónesand other windows giving it a feel for the time in which it was created.
Haupt also makes some interesting choices regarding the structure of the film. The narrator, Hanspeter Müller–Drossaart, speaks in such droll monotone that it takes away from the absolutely fascinating information being given, but not so much that it removes you from the film. Dancer Anna Huber is used for several strange interludes in the film where she appears looking like Jean Seberg on the streets of Barcelona or in La Sagrada Familia, dancing (in exultation?) in an attempt to convey something that still eludes me. But don’t let these asides fool you – this film is quite incredible. It chronicles something that is almost too crazy to believe. That this building, conceived over 130 years ago, is still under construction with a possible end in sight is almost beyond comprehension. The dedication who have picked up, time and time again, the chore of continuing the work is commendable at worst and amazingly inconceivable at best. This is a story that is still unfolding every day in the heart of Barcelona and this film has done a fantastic job of capturing it in the moment and Haupt deserves credit for that. His artistic flourishes aside, this is an incredibly informative film about an iconic architectural wonder.
In short – get there, people.
The film opened this weekend at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and will be running for two weeks. First Run Features will be releasing the film on home video in the near future.