Antonio Gaudí
d. Hiroshi Teshigahara (1984)
The Criterion Collection

I have seen films by Hiroshi Teshigahara (and reviewed his great Woman in the Dunes here), but I didn’t know anything about his 1984 film Antonio Gaudí other than that it existed. I knew nothing about what kind of film it was, though I assumed it must have something to do with the famous architect. I didn’t even read up on it before putting it in the player. I wasn’t looking for this. What a wonderful discovery!

What we have here is not a documentary about Spanish architect Antonio Gaudí. We don’t get to know anything about his life: nothing about his birth or death, nothing about family or friends, nothing explicitly about politics, religion, or philosophy. Instead, Teshigahara simply shows us, with no introduction, no explanation, Gaudí’s work.

Teshigahara takes us around and into Gaudí’s work, sometimes with a shot that gives a lot to take in, like the two above, and sometimes with a shot of detail I probably wouldn’t pay attention to even if I was in the room.

Now, here’s the part where I admit that I didn’t really know much about Gaudí’s work. I had seen photographs of Sagrada Família, the massive basilica on Barcelona’s skyline, but that was about it. I am amazed at how much work he did, both on the grand architectural scale as well as on the tiny details of sculpture and metal work. I found it hypnotic. It’s like his creatures burrowed around the city, some leaving their husks for us to explore.

Again, while Teshigahara doesn’t give us a biography, and he doesn’t even tell us what specifically we are looking at, or when it was made, or where it’s located, he does periodically show us some sketches, giving us a glimpse at a creative mind at work.

He also gives us a sense of these structures being lived and played in, both in the present and in the past.

The short film ends with a fifteen minute approach to and exploration of Gaudí’s unfinished Sagrada Família, which, I see, might be done finally on the centenary of Gaudí’s death in 2026. Teshigahara starts by showing us the mammoth structure dominating the skyline.

He then approaches and shows us a lot of fascinating detail. Honestly, in the past when I’ve seen the structure I have found it unsightly. I was looking through ignorant eyes, as I’ve said, and this time, after looking at so many inspirational designs, I found the basilica beautiful.

The last thing I want to touch on here is that this film is the work of three (at least) brilliant artists. We have Teshigahara, the filmmaker, using his skill to caress the work of Gaudí, the architect. But I also think this film is so powerful because of the work of Toru Takemitsu, the composer who did the haunting music for this film. Takemitsu worked on so many wonderful films, and he has a large body of orchestral, chamber, piano, and other works. It’s always fun when I’m watching a movie and someone in my house is curious about it because of the music they’re hearing from another room.

The Criterion home video edition touches on the work of all of these artists (there you can more explicit talk about Gaudí in particular), making this a wonderfully enriching edition. As I said above, I didn’t know what I was getting into when I sat down to watch this, and I loved every second of what followed.

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