Walking to Paris might be the most wholesome movie Peter Greenaway has ever made. Known for the provocations of The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & her Lover (1989) and the dense tableaus of Prospero’s Books (1991), this late-career effort is simple, sweet, and a complete delight to watch.
It tells the story of Constantin Brâncusi (played by Emun Eliott, Paolo Bernadini, Jacopo Uccella and Andrea Scarduzio due to difficulties in shooting) who walked all the way from Bucharest to Paris in 1903 and 1904. We see, in typical Greenaway fashion, a travel list: Brâncusi packing a hammer, tobacco, empty writing paper, Romanian coins and notes and various other provisions. Soon he sets on a picaresque tale, meeting various women, farmers and animals along the way.
For someone who has constantly claimed to be against narrative cinema, Greenaway’s latest is actually one of his most straightforward tales, telling a clear story of one man’s journey from A to B. There is a certain playfulness in the second narrative layer, told from the perspective of Brâncusi’s son (Remo Girone), who helps to question whether or not this journey took place at all. And while many directors would choose to over-sentimentalise such an immense trip, Greenaway prefers to focus in on the details — the practicalities of travel as well as the way it bled into Brâncusi’s work, claimed here to be some of the most important of the 20th century.
This is not realism by any stretch of the imagination — for example, we don’t follow an exact map of the so-called journey, with Brâncusi seeming to go straight from Romania to Germany — but a walk recounted through memory and representation. In the end, Brâncusi’s walk becomes an ode to all economic migrants who couldn’t afford the train fare; his work just happened to be in the sculpting business.
I was lucky enough to watch the film at a closed screening in Locarno at an art gallery, where I talked to producer, gallery-owner, and friend of Greenaway, Arminio Sciolli, before and after the film. It was originally intended to premiere at Cannes in 2016, but it has been dogged by production issues for the last few years. It is sad that such a respected auteur has been unable to release what is one of his most mellow and enjoyable works in recent years.
The film is not totally finished, needing work on the colour grading, the editing at the end and certain shots of the Eiffel Tower. Nonetheless, it still shows off what a gift Greenaway is to cinema — whether it’s recreating classical nude portraiture, his contemplative conversations, or a stunning shot of the Eiffel magically perched in a Romanian field. Once it is finally ready, they are eyeing a festival premiere next year, potentially Moscow Film Festival in April. While not a major work, fans of Greenaway’s penchant for frames within frames, full-frontal nudity and a healthy, positive attitude towards sexual relationships will be in for a treat. Here’s hoping that the film can soon see the wider release that it deserves.