A decade after his wife and creative partner Jeanne-Claude passed, environmental installation artist Christo, now in his ninth decade, sets to completing a project they had conceived of as early as 1970, “The Floating Piers.” In “Walking on Water,” director Andrey M. Paounov was granted access on the level Albert Maysles received on his collaborations with the artistic duo, who mastered form, finance and bureaucracy to insert their grand, even grandiose work into both the natural landscape and man-made ones. (While often crackling, “Walking on Water” doesn’t reach the level of elemental virtuosity of Maysles’ work with Christo and Jeanne-Claude.) Paounov stays to the path of cinéma vérité, allowing process to proceed unspoiled by heavy-duty explaining and figurehead preening as Christo pushes toward lavishing a yellow floating walkway on Lake Iseo in Italy. Details accrue, and then the passion project meets obstacle after obstacle, and things get daffy about halfway through.
There’s an august character, of course, within poses struck by the veteran commander and battler: Christo elder, hair teased, tousled, high, white; nearly erect, stick-sturdy frame; limitless loquacity on intention, if not interpretation. (Let us pause and correctly call him “leonine.”) Beauty blooms into the frame, mocking the minutiae of conflict and crud that came before. The moments that grate or annoy in the setup pay off in imagery that needs fewer words than many might expend. Man, in midst of nature, reflects nature back by design. Beauty calls to beauty and a chill, a thrill, genuine frissons ripple outward. (A wealth of materials on this and other projects are at the artists’ website, christojeanneclaude.net.) 100m. (Ray Pride)
“Walking on Water” opens Friday, May 23 at the Music Box.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His multimedia history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” will be published soon. Previews of the project are on Twitter and on Instagram as Ghost Signs Chicago. More photography on Instagram.