Thursday, February 14, 2013

DF ’13: Perret in France and Algeria

He was the master and for ten years Le Corbusier was his employee.  A pioneer in reinforced concrete construction, the influence of Auguste Perret and his brother Gustave on the Bauhaus movement are unmistakable.  Yet, the French architects’ modernist style was far more distinctive.  Their buildings on two continents are explored sans commentary in Heinz Emigholz’s Perret in France and Algeria (clip here), which screens as part of the 2013 Documentary Fortnight at MoMA.

The Perrets’ firm is best known for their post-war reconstruction and reorganization of the French port city Le Havre, now officially recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Not surprisingly, they completed projects throughout France, but were also quite prolific builders in Algeria.  Emigholz takes his cameras around (and when possible through) dozens of their buildings in both countries.  There will be no talking heads or voiceovers to distract viewers.  Instead, PIFA is all about the architecture.

Eschewing even a soft background score, Emigholz records the ambient noise, conveying a sense of how the buildings relate to their environments.  However, since he usually film during periods of low internal traffic, it is harder to get a sense of how the people relate to the buildings.  It would also be interesting to get some kind of background on many of the projects, particularly how they came to build so many government offices and hospitals in Algeria, but that research is left up to the individual viewer.

Nonetheless, many of the buildings are incredibly photogenic, such as the Cathedral d’Oran and Salle Cortot music school.  Indeed, anyone visiting Paris after watching Emigholz’s documentary will want to attend a performance in the latter’s concert hall.  Synthesizing Art-Deco, Neoclassical, and early Modernist elements, the Perret style is often quite striking.  However, there are a number of private residences included that look comparatively modest on-screen.

Director-cinematographer Emigholz and his camera crew have assembled a lovely looking film.  Yet, it is hard to shake the notion that it is the film festival equivalent of those European-cities-as-seen-from-the-air programs PBS stations often play on weekend afternoons.  Of course, considering MoMA’s commitment to exhibiting both film and architecture, this is the perfect place to screen it.  Recommended largely for those fascinated by early modernist architecture that are not inclined to visit Algeria anytime soon, Perret in France and Algeria screens Friday (2/15) and Saturday (2/16) as part of this year’s Documentary Fortnight at MoMA.