One of the highlights from a splendid trip to Barcelona over a decade ago was discovering the fascinating Catalan architecture of Antoni Gaudi. These years later, still at the forefront of my memory is his modern and swerving, somewhat frosting like facades of the apartments, Casa Batilo and Casa Mila, and his wonderfully colorful, and mosaic-filled Park Guell. But Barcelona’s crown jewel is the 130+ year-old, still under construction church, La Sagrada Familia.
Stefan Haupt’s documentary “Sagrada: The Mystery of Creation” examines Gaudi and those still toiling to complete his visionary church. Through the interviews of Sagrada’s architects, foremen, church leaders, sculptors, stain glass artists, art historians, and even elder descendants of Gaudi’s assistant, filmmaker Haupt gives viewers an inside look at the working of Barcelona’s holy cathedral.
Construction on Sagrada began in 1882. Foundations were laid for the crypt (which was finished), but further progress ended after disagreements erupted between the architect and building manager. A young Gaudi took over in 1883, and he continued to work on his passion project until his death in 1926. (Gaudi was killed after being hit by a streetcar.)
Gaudi’s vision for the building was extraordinary, mixing Modern, Gothic and Art Nouveau forms. With three unique facades representing the Birth, Passion and the Glory of Jesus, the building, when finished, will also have 18 towering spires. Even in its unfinished state, UNESCO named La Sagrada Familia as a World Heritage Site.
But over the span of its tortured life, the construction hasn’t been without controversy.
Funding of such a spectacular project has always been an issue. Even before Gaudi’s death, funds often ran out. Then in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War, nearly all of Gaudi’s drawings, designs and models were destroyed. WWII stopped the building again, and even as late as 2008, there have petitions to halt the construction.
Plus there have been outcries over whether Gaudi’s vision is being fulfilled. The Nativity façade influenced most by Gaudi was finished in 1935. Sculptor Josep Maria Subirachs worked on the Passion façade and has received great criticism for his spare, emaciated and nude depictions. The Glory wall is still under construction, but with its adjacent urban building sprawl (the land across Sagrada was originally proposed to be untouched), it’s unclear how it will be completed.
Although “Sagrada” touches on the storied history and controversy, the film feels at times disjointed and incomplete, like its subject. The time lines are sporadic, and it’s often confusing whether the interviewees are still involved in the project or have moved on, or even how they interact with supposed colleagues on the project. Also, it’s an odd choice of having a young dancer (Anna Huber) pose in parts of Sagrada as spiritual passages are read. Although Jordi Savall I Bernadet’s music thematically works for the film, the continued cutaways back to the orchestra play awkwardly.
But for fans of architecture and especially those of Antoni Gaudi, the film does have its moments of magic. In fact, it may make viewers want to book a trip to Barcelona to witness La Sagrada Familia before its completion. That is, if it’s ever completed.
“La Sagrada: The Mystery of Creation” is 90 minutes and opens April 3 at Laemmle’s Playouse 7 in Pasadena.