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Non-narrative, almost entire sensory film explores the rise and the collapse of the architecture of men and of nature; the outcome is strangely soothing - from the Official Competition of the 74th Berlin International Film Festival


It is very unusual for an a-list festival to pick a film almost entirely devoid of dialogue and narrative for its main competitive strand. Architecton is pleasant find, and it would normally belong in the Forum section of the Berlinale, which is devoted to the more experimental oddities. Virtually the entire film consists of crumbling architecture, mostly captured from drones, supported by a trippy music score by Evgueni Galperine (the French-Ukrainian composer blends the sounds of nature with minimalistic instruments to excellent results). The outcome is very relaxing, and even satisfactory. It feels like popping bubble wrap, listening to the rain or watching the Casper Sleep Channel.

It is questionable whether such sensations are suitable for images of war destruction. The film boasts extensive images of a mostly destroyed and abandoned Ukrainian city. The drone flies between two buildings only to reveal a giant “Get Russia out of the UN” sign. The bombed buildings are everywhere, the furniture and the intimate belongings of their former residents still inside. Architecton, however, does not feel exploitative, perhaps because human beings are nowhere to be seen, or because this is clearly an anti-Russian film. The Slavonic aggressors are enemy number one of the three countries that sign this international co-production: Germany, France and the United States. It is a safe assumption that Russian filmmaker Victor Kossakovsky is not pro-Putin, and that the movie received no funding from the Kremlin.

Other astounding sequences include a Turkish city ravaged by a 7.8 earthquake in 2023, dynamite-induced avalanches inside an enormous mine, the temple ruins of Baalbek in Lebanon, and forests. Rocks of all sizes battle each other in slow motion in order to decide which one reaches the ground first. Entranced stones dance a bizarre ballet inside some black, viscous liquid. Dark, coloured images are contrasted against bright black-and-white ones. They are occasionally interspersed with scenes of Italian architect Michele De Lucchi and a couple of assistants building a stone brick circle and a stone sculpture in his garden. There is no explanation as to why and what they are doing, and the conversations are brief and casual. A cryptic and ominous “There is going to be a tragedy at the top of the mountains” annlunces a narrative development that never comes to fruition. What is clearis that all manmade structures will eventually cave in and disintegrate.

The first 90 minutes of this 98-minute international co-production are almost entirely devoid of dialogue. It’s only in the epilogue that some of the key reflections are made. Michele complains that most modern architecture competes rather than complements nature, that buildings are now made to last 40 years instead of thousands (as in the good ol’ days), and that concrete is too “arid” and not conducive to life. He observes as his dog lies on the now established brick circle, firmly covered by grass, He does not know whether his family will keep the peculiar construction, thus highlighting the ephemerality of architecture and indeed of human beings (there is a strong possibility that the structure will outlive the septuagenarian architect). These blanket statements and conclusions are wistful however barely enlightening. It is the images and the sounds of Architecton that will stay with you after the cinema lights go on.

Architecton just premiered in the Official Competition of the 74th Berlin International Film Festival. The German capital is no stranger to the collapse of architecture. The Teufelsberg is a rubble mountain, which rises 80m around the surrounding city, and clearly visible from the rooftops of Potsdamer Platz, where most of the Festival takes place.

By Victor Fraga - 19-02-2024

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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