WALKING ON WATER (Andrey M Paounov, 2018)
209 West Houston St.
Opens Friday, May 17
Andrey M Paounov’s Walking on Water, opening this weekend at Film Forum, reveals a lot about large-scale installation artist Christo, and you can find out even more when the Bulgarian-born eighty-four-year-old curmudgeonly religious icon / rock star participates in Q&As with Paounov on Friday and Saturday at 7:00 and Sunday at 4:45. In 1961, Christo and his wife and artistic partner, Jeanne-Claude, started creating massive public works, wrapping fabric around the entire Reichstag in Berlin, placing hundreds of yellow umbrellas in Tokyo and blue umbrellas in California concurrently, and lining the pathways of Central Park with dozens of saffron-colored gates, among other impressive spectacles that gave a pop art sheen to land art, which had been the preserve of Robert Smithson, James Turrell, and Walter De Maria, among others. In 1969, Christo and Jeanne-Claude began trying to realize The Floating Piers project, an expansive walkway that would make visitors feel like they were strolling on the water itself. Jeanne-Claude passed away in 2009, and five years later Christo became determined to make The Floating Piers a reality.
The film follows him as he finds his location — Lake Iseo in Northern Italy — adamantly chooses his materials, meets with local politicians, and has something to say about each step of the process, giving Paounov near-total access as Christo experiences bumps and bruises and gets his eyelashes trimmed. He argues with his nephew and right-hand man, Vladimir Yavachev, over numerous details; gets frustrated with computers; complains about the cover of a catalog (“This is horror story,” he says); is thwarted by bad weather; and nearly has a meltdown when crowd control gets out of hand. He approaches everything with the exacting eye of an artist, taking in the beauty of nature while seeking perfection, and nothing less, from the large crew working for him.
Christo is worshipped everywhere he goes; not only does his name evoke Jesus’s but so does the purpose of The Floating Piers, inviting men, women, and children to traverse the lake on foot similarly to what Jesus did on the Sea of Galilee. Christo even has long (white) hair that flaps in the wind. His eyes light up when he visits the Vatican and marvels at Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling and when he takes a helicopter ride to survey the installation, providing filmgoers with breathtaking views. There is also a terrific score by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans that ranges from sweet and gentle to percussive and pulsating. As ornery as Christo seems to be, he smiles when he needs to, like when he stops by a party loaded with rich collectors, is stopped by fans for selfies, or gazes lovingly at the rich natural landscape surrounding Lake Iseo; it’s all part of his genius.
Paounov (Georgi and the Butterflies, The Mosquito Problem and Other Stories) put the film together with seven hundred hours of footage that had already been recorded before he was hired in 2016, adding to that what he then shot, wisely eschewing talking heads and interviews and instead presenting Christo and his captivating world uncensored and unfiltered, which is a real treat. “Art is not a profession. You don’t work from nine to five,” Christo tells a classroom of small children in his broken English. “To be artist, you are all the time artist. There is no moment when you are not artist.” Walking on Water is an intimate fly-on-the-wall documentary about the creative process and one man’s intense determination to make the planet a better place, one work of art at a time.