A documentary by Andrey Paounov. In English, French, and Italian, with English subtitles. Rated PG
Most people know something about Christo’s vast wrapping projects: the massive Running Fence through Northern California scrubland, in 1976, or the white-shrouded Berlin Reichstag, in 1995. But how much do you know about Christo the man? Walking on Water says a lot about the Bulgarian-born artist, turning 84 this summer, and caught here during the making of one of his most ambitious projects to date.
The Floating Piers, which ended up with 70,000 square metres of bright-yellow fabric stretched across plastic pontoons, allowed visitors to stroll from the shore of Lake Iseo, in the Lombardy region of northern Italy, to an isolated island normally accessible only by boat. (The island belongs to the Beretta family, of dubious handgun fame.)
The project is one that Christo had been attempting for decades, in various locations, alongside his French-Moroccan wife and artistic partner, Jeanne-Claude, who belatedly started sharing credit for the work before dying 10 years ago. One assumes she was the people person of the duo, because the Bulgarian—who looks like Christopher Lloyd playing an irascible Albert Einstein—has zero patience for the foibles and hesitations of others.
Christo lived with Jeanne-Claude in the U.S. starting in 1958, but never really picked up English or French, let alone Italian, and therefore barks rudimentary commands for others (chiefly his long-suffering nephew Vladimir) to deliver more diplomatically to workers, bureaucrats, police, press, et cetera, while manifesting an event as large as this, in 2016, which ended up drawing about five times the 40,000 souls they expected to make like Jesus on that sylvan lake.
Christo can turn on the charm when needed, as seen in this fascinating study, directed by fellow Bulgarian Andrey Paounov, who uses spare, gamelan-inflected music to build tension for a D-Day we know will arrive even as we wonder how he’ll pull it off. Christo gets no government grants or private sponsors; he makes it happen by selling all the preparatory drawings and paintings to high-toned collectors. And by being Christo.