THE PROPOSAL – Documentary Review

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Although the work produced by filmmakers and architects is completely different — architects construct solid and stable monuments, while filmmakers mold moving images — the two professions have a great deal in common. Both assume that their work will become part of our historical record, an indication of human social concerns and values, of our species’ technical achievement and aesthetic values at the time of their production. Filmmakers and architects contribute to our cultural legacy.

Seen from that perspective, it’s easy to understand why filmmaker and artist Jill Magid became personally committed to unveiling the the legacy of legendary Mexican architect Luis Barragan (1902-1988), whose entire work record and artifacts — diaries, blueprints, photos of everything, personal memorabilia and other belongings, and copyrights — had been purchased by a powerful and wealthy Swiss conglomerate, Vitra, and were entirely withheld from public access.

The archive was in the control of a wealthy Swiss woman named Federica Zanco, who received the rights to the art as an engagement present from her fiance, Rolf Fehlbaum, CEO of Vitra, a Swiss branding and manufacturing conglomerate. Federica and the Vitra company have horded thousands of Barragan’s drawings, letters, blueprints, personal memos in a strictly private archive. Furthermore, they’ve copyrighted Barragan’s name and designs.

The work of Barragan — his buildings and theories — is of tremendous importance in the realm of architecture. Characterized by massive walls with vibrantly contrasting colors, Barragan’s structures have a distinctive and deceptively simple appearance. Barragan’s work is studied by architecture students worldwide and his buildings are regular attractions on art lovers’ tours, but access to the cache of his important documents and artifacts was not possible. Absolutely denied. And, while Barragán’s buildings in Mexico can be viewed, the copyright lock was so tight that even taking and sharing photographs of the monumental structures was an infringement.

The Proposal is Magid’s for the record documentation of her mission to open the doors to Barragan’s legacy. As filmmaker, she follows herself as she appeals time and again to Federica, who time and again denies her access because, she claims, she is working on a major Barragan project.

Filmmaker Jill Magid in The Proposal

Magid appears in the film as its key protagonist. She is filmed while traveling to Mexico, where cinematographer Jarred alterman captures images of Barragan’s buildings as background, and to Switzerland. With impressive calm, she repeatedly appeals to and implores Federica to share Barragan’s legacy. She devises a project and proposal to pry open Federica’s absolute lock down on the Barragan archive.

Presenting her correspondence with Federica in voice over — Magid reading her own in a markedly languid and intimate tone, and an accented actor reading Federica’s — Magid structures the film as a competition, a sort of high stakes cat and mouse game between rival lovers, for control of the architect’s legacy. When the two women finally meet in a Swiss cafe, Federica’s image is blurry so that her physical presence seems vague, creating an aura of mystery about her that adds intrigue and actually heightens the drama and tensions between the two women.

The film’s pacing is appropriately slow. It takes a long time to construct a building and to build legacy, and Magid’s pursuit of Federica for access to the Barragan archive continued for a long time — three years, for the record — too. All of that is reflected in the film’s pacing, which actually gives the audience time to contemplate an important social issue presented by the film about the ownership and the denial of public access to art that merits a place in our cultural record.

No spoilers about the outcome! See this film not only for the intriguing true story, but also to broaden your view of art, legacy and public access.


Title: The Proposal

Directors: Jill Magid

Release Date: April 22, 2019

Running Time: 86 minutes

Language: English

Screenwriter: documentary

Distribution Company: Oscilloscope


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