“The city (I thought) is so horrible that its mere existence and perdurance, though in the midst of a secret desert, contaminates the past and future and in some way even jeopardizes the stars.”
— Jorge Luís Borges, ‘The Immortal’
It is entirely appropriate that of the two film-festivals at which Yoni Goldstein and Meredith Zielke’s genre-straddling essay-film A Machine To Live In had its initial screenings, one (True/False) was a traditional physical experience and the other (Visions du Réel) was, due to the exigencies of the Coronavirus pandemic, an online-only, «virtual» affair. A dizzyingly, sometimes exasperatingly multi-layered portrait of the Brazilian capital Brasília, the picture moves freely between the actual, the meta-physical, and the purely conceptual—detailing «the failure of the most spectacular success of the world» – with illuminating, provocative results.
Brasília was constructed (as we here are informed) pretty much from scratch in one thousand days between 1956 and 1960, planned and envisioned as a city of the future: arguably the first truly 21st-century metropolis. Across the whole of the dense text of their 89-minute running-time, Goldstein and Zielke pointedly elect never to mention the man who could plausibly be dubbed the «father» of this whole gargantuan enterprise, Juscelino Kubitschek de Oliveira, Brazil’s president from 1956-1961 (British polymath Jan [then known as James] Morris, in a 1968 essay, noted that «some people call this city the crazy flourish of a megalomaniac politician»). And indeed Kubitschek is largely forgotten outside Brazil; the name most people associate with Brasília is that of Oscar Niemeyer, the extremely long-lived (1907-2012) architect responsible for most of the capital’s landmark civic structures.
Niemeyer’s main rival as the 20th century’s most famous architect — Le Corbusier — provides the film with its title, although his phrase actually referred to a building rather than a city. The impact of Niemeyer and Le Corbusier, …
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