Review: Architecture of Infinity
by Giorgia Del Don
- Zurich-based director Christoph Schaub presents his latest ethereal documentary, a poetic reflection on the concept of infinity
A few months after the release of the comedy Amur senza fin [+see also:
film profile] at Locarno Film Festival, Christoph Schaub has completely changed register with Architecture of Infinity [+see also:
film profile], in true poetic style, presented in world premiere in international competition at DOK Leipzig. Schaub demonstrates an extraordinary ability to change style, proving that cinema is a malleable and changeable material, as bright and dynamic as it is dark and meditative.
Using his own personal experience as a starting point, the Zurich-based director dives into his childhood memories in an almost synesthetic way. Unable to attend his father’s funeral, who died when he was a boy, Christoph Schaub reflects on the consequences of the promise he made to his father to not miss a day of school. How can reflections on a dead person’s body change our perception of loss, and expand beyond our memory of them? A reflection that leads the director to think of religious buildings as if they were caskets in which infinity, life and death are enclosed. A shelter intended as an enclosed space that makes immensity almost palpable. A setting within a cinematographic frame that Christoph Schaub ponders with the aid of six brilliant minds: the famous Swiss architect Peter Zümthor, his colleagues Peter Märkli and Álvaro Siza Vieira, the musician Jojo Mayer and the artists Janes Turrell and Cristina Iglesias.
They have all – as the director does so in this film – confronted this sacred space: its construction and reinterpretation, the discovery of unexpected potential (visual or sound). And everyone leaves the experience transformed, not spiritually per se, but spatially, following the realisation, as James Turrell perfectly puts it, that "the centre is everywhere, and the limits are nowhere." A definition of infinity that religious spaces seem to define without becoming imprisoning, like a shiver that immediately disappears.
"More than Christianity itself, it's the idea of the church as an architectural space that has touched me," says the famous Swiss architect Peter Zümthor at the beginning of the film, immediately defining the documentary's tone. Just like architecture, and its ability to create emotion through relationships between various elements, Schaub's documentary touches us thanks to its slow, almost fluctuating chain of images (thanks to Marina Wernli’s magnificent editing and Ramon Giger's astonishing cinematography). Talking about skin and how it shrinks, the director immerses us in a set of dreamlike images of material flying over immense fields, and mould on church walls, destined to disappear one day. With an almost choreographed feel, the immense church designed by Álvaro Siza Vieira (Santa Maria di Canaveses), comes to life under the director's eye: the doors open, the bells ring and the faithful pour out onto the square, emerging from the belly of the building.
Architecture of Infinity is a delicate and ambitious film that we should embrace without resistance, in a state of semi-wakefulness. Words soothe us without becoming redundant and images give us space to dream. A welcome balance that ensures the film does not slip into an essay form. Like a child, the viewer is invited to remain focused on his or her inner world, forgetting the exterior that torments us, creating our own infinite poeticism in the company of the director.
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