Bernard Schütze
FIFA 2020

FIFA 2020 | Stéphane Ghez : Charlotte Perriand, pionnière de l’art de vivre

Charlotte Perriand, pionnière de l’art de vivre
Director : Stéphane Ghez
Festival International des Films sur l’Art (FIFA) 2020

To meet a stranger in chance circumstances and then realize that the many affinities you share might just spark a nascent friendship is indeed a precious experience. A similar sentiment of connection and identification is also something that can arise in relation to characters one encounters in works of fiction. However, in the case of documentary film such a virtual meeting of minds seems far less likely. The objectivity and fact-based approach that often characterizes this genre is not conducive to the development of such attachments. This certainly applies to documentary biographic portraits in which hackneyed interviewing methods and predictable intercutting with support footage tend to create a distancing effect. With this expectation, I began viewing Stéphane Ghez’s film, Charlotte Perriand, pionnière de l’art de vivre, presented at the FIFA Montréal online festival. After a short while of watching, it became apparent that this was not going to be your run-of-the-mill portrait of an artist documentary. As is made evident by the title, this feature film focuses on the life and times of Charlotte Perriand, a modernist designer, architect, social activist, feminist, mountaineer and free-spirited being. Here Stéphane Ghez skillfully interweaves eye-catching archival footage from the 1920s to the 1980s with design and architectural project drawings from Perriand’s sketchbooks, and excerpts from an intriguing 1990s interview in which she reminisces about her past. The film thereby reveals how her various endeavours were guided by a desire to improve and enrich living spaces both on an aesthetic level, through furniture and interior design, and on a social level, through architectural projects intended for the less privileged. In the 1920s and early 1930s, she worked closely with her mentor, Le Corbusier, and her close friend, Fernand Léger, on projects that focused on combing functionality with a modernist aesthetic. This, among other things, led her to the creation of her signature and now legendary chaise longue. In the 1930s, she began developing architectural housing projects to improve the living conditions in underprivileged Parisian neighborhoods. In the early to mid 1940s, she spent several years in Japan and Vietnam, a stay that deeply influenced her perception of architecture and space. Upon returning to Europe in the 1950s, she redesigned kitchen spaces from a feminist perspective, and then closed off her career in the 1960s with the architectural design for the Arc ski station, which has become a model of socially inclusive modern architecture. These and other facets of her long career are brought to life through the film’s careful editing, well-paced rhythm and artful and pertinent selection of archival photographs and films. Also noteworthy is the director’s choice to animate her sketchbook drawings to dynamically convey the visual conception process that led to her finished projects. In interweaving these animations, examples of various works, personal recollections and historical footage, this masterful film takes us on a journey through the modern time that shaped this remarkable woman and thereby makes us feel as though we had actually encountered her along the way.

53 min., France, 2019
Camera: Raphaël Dougé
Music: Jean-Philippe Barrios
Film Editing: Lionel Delabarre
Director: Stéphane Ghez

Stéphane Ghez, Charlotte Perriand, pionnière de l'art de vivre, 2019