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CPH:DOX 2024

Review: E.1027 – Eileen Gray and the House by the Sea


- Swiss directors Beatrice Minger and Christoph Schaub try to untangle the threads of the complex story behind the legendary house by the sea known as E.1027, which remains intriguing today

Review: E.1027 – Eileen Gray and the House by the Sea
Natalie Radmall-Quirke in E.1027 – Eileen Gray and the House by the Sea

Presented in a world premiere at CPH:DOX in the DOX:AWARD section, E.1027 – Eileen Gray and the House by the Sea by Beatrice Minger and Christoph Schaub juxtaposes several complex personalities who have marked the story of architecture, all brilliant figures but in diametrically opposite ways. Behind the house, or rather the work of art, known as E.1027 isn’t only the magic of an architectural body come to life, but also the complexity of a trio of brilliant minds, namely the architects Eileen Gray, Jean Badovici and Le Corbusier. Starting from the unresolved conflict between the discreet but visionary Irish architect and the legend of modern architecture Le Corbusier, who took over her villa by his imposing gigantic and cumbersome frescoes upon it, the film is a reflection on the difficulty of existing in a world dominated by a toxic masculinity that leaves very little space for reflection and dialogue. 

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Structured like a docufiction which brings together archive images, reenactments and a voice over that gently accompanies the images (mostly that of Eileen Gray speaking in the first person), the film shows moments of intimacy that we can only imagine. Rather than a historical reconstruction based on meticulous analysis of the available documents, Beatrice Minger and Christoph Schaub (who already looked at architecture in their previous films) chose to put architecture in dialogue with cinema in order to bring to life the sensibility of a woman who was a visionary yet is too rarely celebrated. The shot compositions, the colours and the shapes within them, push us to see what Eileen Gray saw, the beauty of every instant. As the voice over says: “objects talk to me, they have a rhythm which creates a symphony.” More interested in expressing the complexity of life and in imbuing houses with soul, than in the geometric rigour of the Art Déco style popular at the time, Eileen Gray was always an outsider, a free thinker looking for “a room of one’s own.” 

Played by Natalie Radmall-Quirke, the Eileen Gray of Beatrice Minger and Christoph Schaub, a sort of “daughter of Dr. Caligari” as she is described in the film, evolves within minimalist sets which recall German expressionist films. Her uniqueness does not derive solely from her desire to defy the conventions of her time — she is not interested in marriage, falls in love with other women, and does not want to limit herself to the private space of interior design, a limit beyond which very few women have ever emerged — but also from her determination to incarnate the opposite of the virile, competitive and arrogant genius. 

Giving voice and body to the minority point of view espoused by Gray, the film seeks to include within the Olympus of modern architecture headed by Le Corbusier a perspective that is different, visionary and brilliant without being overbearing. One sentence spoken by Gray in the film could sum up her attitude: “I love building houses but I hate owning them.” A desire to own which, on the contrary, was a prerogative for Le Corbusier who, with the help of his friend Jean Badovici, invaded Gray’s sanctuary, namely the villa E.1027, imposing upon it his gigantic frescoes. It is really around this unresolved conflict, a kind of architectural rape which has however never been officially judged as such, that the directors construct their film, a reflection on the mixed emotions that such an act should arouse.

Elegant and well thought-out, the film uses the cinematic medium to enrich a discourse dominated for too long by the arrogance of a few. 

E.1027 – Eileen Gray and the House by the Sea was produced by Das Kollektiv für Audiovisuelle Werke GmbH, Soap Factory GmbH, SRG SSR and ARTE G.E.I.E.. It is sold internationally by Rise and Shine.

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(Translated from Italian)

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