The demise of David Alfaro Siqueiros’ neglected mural “Plastic Exercise” lies at the center of “Next to Be Gone,” Lorena Munoz’ delicate doc on the ravages of time and art. Pic tends to bury its headline — that the mural is on the verge of destruction — amid magnificent filmic flourishes, but will draw interested cognoscenti in Latin American art and film, and secure key tube outlets for broadcast.
Striving to recover a lost past is a familiar theme in Munoz’s films, including her magnificent collaboration with Sergio Wolf about a Garbo-esque tango singer, “You Don’t Know What Your Eyes Have Done To Me.”
Siqueiros, along with famed muralist Diego Rivera, was in political exile in Argentina in 1933-’34 when commissioned by newspaper tycoon Natalio Botana to paint a massive, mural in the basement of his country home. Erotic nature of the work, distinct from Siqueiros’ better-known Socialist-themed public art, was enough to make the area off-limits to the family’s kids, and inspired gossip that’s amusingly related here by author Hugo Achugar.
Film takes much too long, however, to get to the central concern, which is that the basement mural, “Plastic Exercise” is quickly decomposing; engineer Tomas Del Carill gives the work five years tops before it’s irreparable.
While the early section is gorgeous, and a five-minute finale (showing a replica created by a team led by Santiago Rey) may be the best rendering possible of what the mural looks like, almost lost is fact that, as Quijano argues near the end, “Plastic Exercise” is a landmark in Latin American art. Such a statement placed near the beginning would give pic an urgency that seems mandatory under the circumstances.
Ivan Gierasinchuk’s exquisite lensing and Pedro Onetto’s achingly nostalgic music recall a lost time and place.