Susan Morris | Essays

The New York Film Festival 2022: Building-Centric Films

This year’s New York Film Festival, the 60th, featured films that used architecture, design, urbanism and landscape architecture as a key storytelling devices. Walk Up is a compact house in Seoul, South Korea, with four floors, roof deck and a basement reached down a spiral staircase, owned and lived in by an interior designer. When an award-winning filmmaker friend visits (his daughter is interested in design), she offers him an upper floor unit. The various floors of the building are the site of romantic and professional passages, often occupied by artists, who struggle to survive in their fields.

The Eternal Daughter takes place in a hotel outside of Liverpool that is a former stately home where an elderly mother and her adult daughter (both played by Tilda Swinton) visit for her birthday. As a child, the mother sheltered there during WWII when her wealthy aunt was in residence.The location is actually Soughton Hall, a Grade II listed house in Sychdyn, Flintshire, Wales that was built in 1720 by Sir Charles Barry, architect of the Houses of Parliament, and remodeled in 1820 by its then incumbent, William John Bankes, an Egyptologist and friend of Lord Byron. The mother and daughter pair seem to be the only guests at the hotel, but it becomes clear that this is really a ghost story.  

Still from Slaughterhouses of Modernity.

Slaughterhouses of Modernity is another film centered on architecture by Heinz Emigholz, filmed in Argentina, Bolivia and Germany. The Argentinian architect Francisco Salamone (1897–1959) built more than 60 municipal buildings in 25 rural communities in Buenos Aires Province on the pampas, some of the first examples of modern architecture in rural Argentina. (Another film at the festival, Trenque Lauquen, which translates as “round lake” in the Mapuche language, is a town in this same region.)  In addition to civic buildings like city halls, there are also mataderos, or slaughterhouses. Most are cream-colored structures in park-like settings, and they have been compared to buildings constructed during Mussolini’s rule in Italy. In fact, German Fascists advised South American dictators, and reference is made to Hans Scharoun (1893–1972), although he was not heavily involved with Nazi architecture. Epecuen ís an Argentinian resort on a lake whose waters swelled so much that the city was abandoned and ruined by the floods; in 2009, the waters receded so the ruins emerged, captured in a German book. Eimholz then shifts to the Humbolt Forum, a new building on Museum Island in Berlin opened in 2021 in the reconstructed Berlin Palace. In Bolivia, self-taught architect Freddy Mamani Silvestre (1971–) has made colorful postmodern “anti-Bauhaus” Neo-Andean architecture. In sum, Emigholz is illustrating municipal architecture’s intersection with capitalism.

Films Mentioned
The Eternal Daughter, directed by Joanna Hogg
Slaughterhouse of Modernity, directed by Heinz Emigholz
Walk Up, directed by Hong Sangsoo

Next up, the exploration of borders and anxious interpretations of cities at the 60th New York Film Festival.

Posted in: Architecture, Arts + Culture

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