Eduardo Brito, Há Filmes na Baixa
The film is born with the day, is born like the building. Afterwards, still in the opening shot, the day progresses, as it will throughout the film, one sequence after another, one workday after another. Then enter the titles, like the night. The Construction of Villa Além: a house by Valerio Olgiati, in Someplace, Alentejo. We will get back to that.
Essential, and perhaps therefore redundant, premise: cinema happens in time and exists in space. In the space that is filmed, in the image that projects onto a surface. But also in the mental space that becomes film. It exists in the time it lasts and in the time it represents: in this case, the idea of day, several days as one, the time of the construction work in a sequence of shots that symbolises the natural and necessary cycle of its making.
One possible approach to The Construction of Villa Além is to speak of the most fundamental (and therefore radical) structural elements of cinema, of cinema as philosophy, as symbol: time, space, imaginary. Already in the initial sequence, the legacy of suspense: the premise of mystery is there, in its formal wholeness, from the opening shot to the opening credits: and we are offered the day as cycle, the location as enigma and, on another level, the architectural work as symbol – it rises like the sun, grows like the vegetation it replaces (which will resurface, tamed) but also as the emanation of a power: from one nature, another. The house is além, yonder, and yonder is nowhere. After all, where else could a house be that is closed to the world and open to the sky? To not know where além is (does anyone?) is an advantage: through mystery, one is made oblivious of the space beyond to focus on the upcoming space within.
And then, the matter of language - cinematic, in this case. Editing, as the organisation of images in time, generates meaning, a story that happens chronologically, with a beginning and an end, in the classical form. And this meaning exists beyond the word, where a eulogy of slowness takes place: the shots take the time of the construction work and because of this permanence (nothing accidental about it) we imagine. We imagine the next move, the house built and lived in, but also the shooting time, the days, the hours; the editing time, the nights and the night hours (in cinema, editing tends to be a quintessentially nocturnal affair). And finally, the film paraphernalia as building material, for the construction of Villa Além as cinema. It then makes sense to underline the obvious: the film becomes built work and the built work becomes film. So the fundamental structural elements return with their aforementioned infinite possibilities: time, space, imaginary. And in the latter, we are again spectators of a work that progresses through the day and ends up with the night. And - it is common knowledge - in the night there are spectres, things that resemble other things, reflections, kitchens as ready-made sets, windows as film screens, windows as stages where shadows of horses project. The curtains are drawn, the film ends. Next comes the day and The Construction of Villa Além begins anew: cinema as the built work.
Paola Ricco, The Architecture Player
The landscape of the Portuguese region of Alentejo is unique. Somewhere near the coast, the Swiss architect Valerio Olgiati and his wife Tamara found a spot to build a house to live in for part of the year. Matching personal desires with one’s work life represents an achievement that should be documented to record the passion and effort required. The filmmakers Ana Resende, Miguel C. Tavares, Rui Manuel Vieira and Tiago Costa were involved in this story, having being challenged by the architect to document the building process. They had free reign and after a long period of careful observation they released "The Construction of Villa Além".
The house is based on a long-conceived design that materialized into significant contemporary architecture. Its planning and construction were carried out with the utmost care. Olgiati's "buen retiro" derives from the intention to create a secluded garden in among that special countryside. The architecture is almost introverted, with the living spaces mostly facing the inner green courtyard. At the same time the strong and distinct geometries of the four concrete walls delimiting the yard turn the building into a habitable sculpture in the landscape, and some broad openings onto it frame the surrounding hills.
The film follows the construction of the house. Step by step in slow rhythm the unique elements of the house are unveiled, such as forms, details and its relationship with the landscape. The camera meanders onto the building site and records some relevant moments of the process. Rather than following the linear construction path from the beginning to the end of the works, the film conveys the atmosphere of the building site, where careful attention is paid and patient evaluations are made. This is a special piece of architecture, uniting form and aesthetics and demanding great skill in its manufacturing. Time is required for the process to be successful, and the camera leisurely observes the process.
In this excerpt, observers follow the montage of the wide one-cut window of the studio, the only room directly overlooking the open landscape, while the others face the inner courtyard of the building. More than a mere window on the landscape, it provides a strong visual connection with it so that even a horse browsing nearby can be fully framed by it.
"Throughout the film,” as reported by the filmmakers, “Villa Além appears forever incomplete, forever under construction. The building process is a spectrum here, or perhaps, an excuse for an opportunity to document and experience a rare work. What is suggested is a journey through time to arrive at the inception of the idea. In the film, as in the house, one is left helpless in the succession of shots, alone with the images and the sounds, freed from words that might direct you, hoping that mystery and seduction may be found within the minimum of means and expressions."