The Proposal


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Proposal
"This builds into a compelling combination of personal film essay and tense drama as Magid's audacious plan comes to fruition." | Photo: Jarred Alterman

Conceptual artist Jill Magid is interested in systems of power and ownership and the subversion of them, so, at first glance, this documentary about architect Luis Barragán might seem like something of a departure. In fact, it turns out to be just one facet of what became her latest multidisciplinary work that illustrates what can happen when creative property is bought and sold.

Mexican Barragán, described as the "poet among architects", bequeathed his archive to a friend and, ultimately, divided into the 'professional' and the 'personal'. The professional element was sold off to the Vitra Design Company in Switzerland - as an engagement gift for the owner's wife-to-be Federica Zanco, who has largely kept it from the world in the two decades since. This meant that when Magid was planning an exhibition inspired by Barragán, she ran up against the fact that not only could she not access much of his material, but even things that were in the public realm, such as photos the buildings themselves, were subject to trademark and strict usage restrictions.

What starts as an apparent examination of some of Barragán's buildings, all bright colours and modernist clean lines - shot with an elegant spareness by Jarred Alterman, who showed with Convento that he has an ability to frame spaces in a way that is sympathetic to and gives a feel for them - opens out into a broader discussion about who should own a cultural legacy. Far from being deterred by Zanco's polite but brisk denial of access, Magid uses it as inspiration for her own work on the subject, formulating a 'proposal' of her own involving Barragán's family, while entering in to an extended correspondence with Zanco in a bid to wear her down.

Although occasionally straying into overly personal "navel gazing" territory - such as when Magid goes into a reverie about cookie crumbs - for the most part, this builds into a compelling combination of personal film essay and tense drama as Magid's audacious plan comes to fruition. It's well constructed so that letters are heard in voiceover or used as illustration, without bogging down the thrust of the documentary, while T Griffin's score is suitably jazzy and ambitious. You have to have some sympathy for Zanco, who is seen purely from Magid's perspective here, although the artist makes sure we're fully aware of her own slant.

Whether Magid's mission is accomplished you'll have to watch the film to see, but the resulting art and argument most certainly is.

Reviewed on: 24 May 2019
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The Proposal packshot
When artist-turned-filmmaker Jill Magid learns that the archives of Mexico's most famous architect are being held in a private collection, she devises a radical plan to return his legacy to the public.

Director: Jill Magid

Year: 2018

Runtime: 85 minutes

Country: US


Tribeca 2018

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