We're not sure what's art and what's not in delightful doc, The Proposal

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      A documentary by Jill Magid. Rating unavailable

      This thorny little item raises, but does not answer, many provocative questions about ownership, inspiration, and responsibility in the creative process.

      Anyone who follows the arts, architecture, or copyright law will find this Proposal compelling stuff. It’s pretty interesting as basic human drama, as well.

      U.S.–based conceptual artist Jill Magid had already done several installations and ongoing works based on the notions of spying, failed states, and closed-circuit surveillance when she got hooked on the innovative Mexican architect Luis Barragán, who died in 1988.

      Invited to stay at his well-preserved home and to examine personal archives, she was fascinated by his mid-century-modern aesthetic, which combines sometimes brutalist, oversized elements with slabs of bold colour and other playful accents.

      When it came time to examine his papers, models, and other work product, Magid discovered that the whole trove had been sold in 1995 to a Swiss furniture company called Vitra. In fact, the company owner bought it (for about two mill) as a wedding gift for his fiancée, Federica Zanco, a former architectural scholar who likewise fell in love with Barragán’s unique style.

      Unfortunately, it was a possessive kind of amor, and Mexican academics soon found that Zanco had copyrighted almost everything related to the architect’s work. She further made it impossible to utilize or even visit the archives, and expensive to use the images they already had.

      The well-shot doc, both breezy and contemplative at under 90 minutes, follows and/or reconstructs the filmmaker’s attempts to penetrate the remote conservator’s museum-grade perimeters.

      Mostly, this takes the form of a long correspondence between them, culminating with Magid getting the Barragán family’s permission to exhume Luis’s cremated remains and—well, to explain more would spoil the weirder twists here. Let’s just say that neither Zanco nor the Mexican media fully understand the American’s attempts to get at least part of the work back home, where it’s wanted.

      Or maybe they do, and the subsequent conflict is a performative part of the artist’s conception.

      The movie’s smooth visual serenity is slightly undercut by Magid’s squeaky, sing-song voice, responsible for most of the narration. The story itself is seriously adult, so perhaps the childlike demeanour is another facet of the provocation.

      Or maybe it isn’t.