'Sagrada: The Mystery of Creation': Film Review

Sagrada: The Mystery of Creation Still - H 2014
Courtesy of First Run Features

Sagrada: The Mystery of Creation Still - H 2014

 Thoughtful doc feels as unfinished as its subject

Stefan Haupt's documentary details the creation and continuing construction of Antoni Gaudi's massive Barcelona cathedral

As unfinished projects go, La Sagrada Familia is a doozy. Originally commissioned in 1882, this Barcelona Gothic-style cathedral designed by legendary Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi was supposed to have been completed by 1900. Other than the crypt which ironically houses the remains of its famed designer, it remains uncompleted to this day, with no end date in sight. Stefan Haupt's (The Circle) documentary Sagrada: The Mystery of Creation explores the building's tortured history and the current efforts to bring it to fruition, but in a disappointingly dull style that fails to do justice to its outsized inspiration.  

"We owe it to him to finish this temple and show the world his genius," one of the workers comments in reference to Gaudi, whose death in 1926 was but one of the many impediments to the completion of the hugely ambitious structure originally meant to have eighteen soaring steeples (only eight were actually built). Among the other hardly minor obstacles were the Spanish Civil War and World War II, as well as funding problems and controversies over its design elements. All of Gaudi's original documents concerning the site, as well as most of his models, were destroyed in the various conflicts.

Read More 'The Circle (Der Kreis)': Berlin Review

The filmmaker delivers a meditative examination of the building and its tortured history, as well as detailing the continuing efforts to advance its progress. There are interviews with its chief architect, as well as such fascinating figures as Japanese sculptor Etsuro Sotoo, who has labored on the project for over thirty years. A former Buddhist, he converted to Catholicism due to his reverence for the architect, which has actually led him to advocate for his canonization.

Among the building's other controversial aspects are its statue of a naked Jesus; its carvings designed by a modern artist that are seen as conflicting with Gaudi's original design ("It's an after-Gaudi," comments one historian); and the planned building of an underground tunnel for a train from Barcelona to Paris that could pose a threat to its structural stability. It nonetheless has become Barcelona's biggest tourist attraction, selling some three million admission tickets a year that help to finance its ongoing construction.

Read More Oscars: Switzerland Selects 'The Circle' for Foreign-Language Category

But despite the fascinating information imparted and the numerous views of the fascinating building itself, the slow-paced film fails to compel. It's as if the seeming curse that has afflicted the colossal structure has affected its cinematic document as well. Gaudi devotees and architecture buffs will no doubt find it valuable, but more general viewers may feel as if they're fulfilling a classroom assignment.

Production: Fontana Film
Director-screenwriter-producer: Stefan Haupt
Director of photography: Patrick Lindenmaier
Editor: Christof Schertenleib
Composer: J.P. Goljadkin

No rating, 94 min.