A shame she didn’t design this film

It’s hard to go wrong, surely, in relating the life of one of the

20th century’s most influential designers: one of the first women to study at the Slade, openly bisexual, engaged in a bitter dispute with Le Corbusier, neglected in the histories before rediscovery. Eileen Gray’s story has it all. Which is why it is curious that Jörg Bundschu’s Eileen Gray: Invitation to a Voyage nearly drops the ball. And as it won the best portrait award at the most recent edition of the International Festival of Films on Art (Fifa) in Montreal, what does it say about the competition?

It’s a frustrating film, where much fascinating biography and history is wasted in hasty construction and disposable generalisations. One can’t help but wonder if the Irish accented, English language alternative voice-over (there is a choice between English and German narrations) was imposed by Irish broadcaster RTE, a co-producer of the film. The narrator’s tone is almost always inappropriate, being constantly cheerful, even when relating the more serious or even tragic events in Gray’s life. And there is little excuse for such trite sentences as “this was the era of the lesbian community”.

There are good things, particularly with the interviewees who pronounce on Gray’s life. Christie’s Philippe Garner for one is fascinating and eloquent and should be given his own walking/talking art show on TV. And the footage of Le Corbusier’s murals that despoiled Gray’s E.1027 house on the French Riviera is rare and worthwhile, although the wobbly, scene-setting aerial shot looks like it was taken by a tourist on a hot air balloon trip.

Less an invitation to a voyage, more an invitation to a re-edit, this film could have been excellent, had its considerable source materials not been assembled in so haphazard a fashion.

Iain Millar

o Eileen Gray: Invitation to a Voyage is available on DVD from Kick Film, www.kickfilm.com

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