Walking on Water (2019; Andrey Paounov)
By Daniel Barnes
*Opens Friday, May 24, at the Landmark Opera Plaza in San Francisco and the Landmark Shattuck in Berkeley.
I started this blog over five years ago, and in that time, I penned and published over 500 exclusive posts. To this day, my coverage of the Albert Maysles Film Festival remains one of my favorite pieces.
My reviews specifically focused on Maysles’ movies about conceptual artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Between 1974 and 2007, Maysles and various collaborators made six films about Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s attempts to bring their colorful, industrial-scale whimsy into public spaces. Christo and Jeanne-Claude became world-famous for their 23 temporary art projects, often using bright fabric to wrap buildings or line natural landscapes.
The resulting films form a fascinating catalog of the duo’s unique artistic process, a synthesis of small-scale inspiration and large-scale execution. They also capture a rare collision of anti-commercialism and commerce run amok. Rather than cozying to corporate sponsors, Christo self-funds these large installations by creating a limited run of related works, which then inspire obscene bidding wars. After a short period, the art installation gets disassembled, and only the films remain.
“Serviceable But Overlong”
Both Jeanne-Claude and Maysles passed away since The Gates came out in 2007, but Christo keeps raving. Andrey Paounov’s serviceable but overlong documentary follows the white-haired Bulgarian artist as he finally realizes a long-delayed dream project. Since 1970, Christo and Jeanne-Claude tried to sell local governments around the world on a fabric-covered walkway constructed over a body of water.
After an extended period out of the public eye following Jeanne-Claude’s death, Christo resurfaced in 2016 with The Floating Piers. Built in northern Italy, The Floating Piers featured a saffron sidewalk stretching for several kilometers over Lake Iseo. Constructed from over 200,000 polyethylene cubes, The Floating Piers stands as a fascinating feat of engineering.
However, Paounov seems more interested in watching Christo fumble with modern technology and scream at laborers. After barely appearing in The Gates, Christo gets thrust back into center stage in Walking on Water. Paounov practically drags the running time to the 100-minute mark, finding any excuse to manufacture tension. It’s going to rain on opening day! No, it isn’t. A little girl got lost in the crowd of art tourists! Oh, there she is.
Meanwhile, the last ten minutes show Christo packing a suitcase and getting his eyelashes trimmed. Walking on Water features moments of great beauty, but just as many stretches of grating monotony.