For those unschooled in the work of Antonio Gaudí—the radical Catalan architect responsible for the Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona, among other beguiling masterworks—Hiroshi Teshigahara's 1984 documentary will offer little context. So the best place to start on the new two-disc DVD is with the supplemental materials, specifically the an hourlong BBC special Visions Of Space: "God's Architect," which clarifies Gaudí's connection with nature and the sensual structures (flowers, tree bark, spider webs, mountain faces) that influenced his spectacularly ornate designs. With that knowledge in hand, Teshigahara's almost entirely wordless tribute to Gaudí's achievements becomes a place to get lost, a hypnotic travelogue that's radical in a way that's completely symbiotic with its subject. Though Gaudí died nearly six decades before the film was made, it nonetheless feels like a true collaboration between him and Teshigahara, whose camera caresses the Seussian curves and painstaking flourishes that made Gaudi's work so otherworldly.
The son of a sculptor, Teshigahara visited Spain in 1959 and shot some 16mm footage of Gaudi's structures (20 minutes of which is included on the DVD), and though he didn't return until the tail end of his career, the visit clearly had a profound effect on him stylistically. Teshigahara's most famous film, 1964's Woman In The Dunes, converts the Gaudí-esque desert landscapes into the film's most imposing character, as mysterious and seductive as the woman who ensnares the hero in her underground lair. That's why it really isn't adequate to call Antonio Gaudí a documentary, because Teshigahara doesn't seek to inform, so much as find a poetic intersection between his work and Gaudí's.
Except for a little scholarly context on the towering Sagrada Familia, which Teshigahara saves for the final 20 minutes, Antonio Gaudí keeps a cool distance and lets the work speak for itself. Helped along by a musical score that fuses classical strains with the eerie, chime-heavy ambiance of a science-fiction movie, the film draws out the alien texture of Gaudí's façades, which sought no continuity with the architecture surrounding them. He seemed to design buildings for another world—one far more whimsical than our own.
Key features: In addition to the material already mentioned, the supplemental disc includes a dull Ken Russell-directed tribute, an interview with architect Arata Isozaki that links Gaudí and Teshigahara, and Teshigahara's short film about his father.