DIR/WRI: Mary McGuckian • PRO: Mary McGuckian, Jean-Jacques Neira, Hubert Toint • DOP: Stefan von Bjorn • ED: John O’Connor, Robert O’Connor, Kant Pan • MUS: Brian Byrne • DES: Emma Pucci • CAST: Orla Brady, Alanis Morissette, Vincent Perez, Francesco Scianna
Mary McGuckian has described her biopic of Irish modernist furniture designer and architect Eileen Gray as an art film in both content and style. The film seeks to make amends for forgotten history, Gray being somewhat sidelined in history by the much more well known Le Corbusier, and reinstate her as the pioneer of modernist design that she was.
The film opens with an elderly, frail Gray being shown pictures of E-1027, the house she designed and lived in in the south of France with her former lover, architect and critic Jean Badovici. The authorship of the modernist villa was for a time misattributed to Le Corbusier, a misconception caused in part by Gray’s slowness to accredit it to herself, and also Le Corbusier’s painting of murals on the walls of the villa in Gray’s absence, which infuriated her. Much of the film examines the strained relationship between the two designers, who, despite their disagreements, maintained a respect for each other as artists.
Perhaps in keeping with how history has remembered them, the film gives more of a voice to Le Corbusier, who narrates his version of events with playful use of voice over and direct address. The film gives the impression of a merging of the two’s memories, being recollections of both a now elderly Gray and a hermit-like Le Corbusier, perhaps wishing to atone for his past actions. The regular use of elliptical montage, propelled by a near constant lilting score, suggests that these are flashes of remembrance; the conception and then construction of E-1027 is swept along in moments, as is the jarring intrusion of World War II, when the house is looted by German soldiers.
The film’s recreation of the style and feel of the era is faultless, the costume and production design being particularly well executed. The film is visually stunning, but it is a subject matter that would demand carefully constructed visuals.
Gray herself casts an intriguing and enigmatic figure, vividly rendered by Brady. The film focuses more on her artistic peak than her early or later years, giving the impression of someone whose work life and personal life were closely intertwined. At times the narrative tends towards the more intellectual than emotional, though this is in keeping with the modernist mind-set that the film documents.
As a tribute to an artist and the pursuit of art, the film is an artistic achievement in its own right, elevated by the strength of its cinematography, design, music and cast. It is fitting that the work of Eileen Gray should be reintroduced and revisited in so rich a fashion.
The Price of Desire is released 27th May 2016