The art of concrete as a medium rivets the eye of the film world’s most acute observer of architecture, Heinz Emigholz, in “Parabeton.” Marking the 19th chapter of his “Photography and Beyond” series of docus on architects and their buildings, and the first of two under the title “Decampment of Modernism,” the docu traces Pier Luigi Nervi’s 20th-century constructions in chronological order alongside Roman buildings that inspired him. Pic will have great appeal to auds and fests with a love of architecture on the bigscreen.
Smallscreen play on high-end Euro cablers is also a sure thing, but before that inevitable reduction of Emigholz’s gigantic images, the pic will return to Berlin’s Arsenal cinemas for a theatrical run starting May 31, four months after its Berlin Forum preem. The bigger the screen, the better in the case of Emigholz, renowned for his original style of capturing the essence and entirety of great buildings with his fixed camera.
Like his previous work, “Parabeton” begins with an establishing shot of a given building, then moves toward and around the building in a steadily paced montage of still shots, sometimes canted, or at low and high angles. Ultimately, the camera moves indoors, continuing its ever-curious prowl. Emigholz can be relied upon to find corners and angles no conventional cameraperson would ever discover, all of which has the effect of drawing out fresh, unexpected qualities in the building he’s observing.
Usually, the visual pleasure of Emigholz’s work is in its accumulating information — not only seeing and comprehending each building as it appears, but also comparing a given architect’s successive buildings, as if the viewer is in an ever-moving gallery. That’s also the case here, but with the added excitement of alternating between Nervi’s buildings and Roman examples that directly influenced him, particularly work experimenting with concrete dome constructions that had never before been attempted.
An example of this is a sequence midway through the pic, jumping from Nervi’s 1961 Palace of Labor to the second-century Villa Adriana, and back to Nervi’s epic 1962 Burgo Paper Factory; the result is a conversation between two periods, with each builder creating something aesthetically powerful while tackling the engineering demands of working with concrete on a massive scale.
The past-present dynamic also brings out another theme, which is how buildings decay. The Roman work is in (preserved) ruins, and already, some of Nervi’s buildings are well on their way there; it’s as if the Roman concrete is reminding the modern concrete that you, too, are fated to inevitable ruin, even as the nearly 2,000-year-old structures suggest much of their original majesty.
Arguably, the one advantage to watching this or any of Emigholz’s pics on vid is to be able to pause or rewind the images for a closer look, but the larger-screen view confirms the filmmaker’s total control of image (as his own lenser) and sound (with soundman Stefan Konken).