By Rachel Kaplan
A Journey Around the Moon (Voyage autour de la Lune) made its U.S. premiere at the Architecture and Design Film Festival last month. The latest installation in Ila Bêka and Louise Lemoine’s “Living Architectures” project, the film offered a refreshing contrast to the festival’s starchitect-studded lineup. Neither an architect biopic nor a film chronicling a building’s design and construction process, A Journey Around the Moon is a different type of film about architecture. An urban portrait of Bordeaux’s crescent-shaped Garonne River waterfront, Bêka and Lemoine weave disparate experiences into a singular testimony about the collective significance of urban space through a series of interviews with residents and visitors.
A Journey Around the Moon explores notions of public architecture through the lens of the human experience. We follow the two filmmakers as they traverse the “Moon Harbor,” a cherished community asset that came about thanks to a massive revitalization effort at the turn of the 21st century. Through the film we begin to unpack how this space has transformed the image of the city in the collective mindset. Bêka and Lemoine’s careful choreography of images and narratives reveal how this place has shaped the lives of the people of Bordeaux. We meet street performers, spiritual wanderers, truck drivers. A hyperactive pastry chef, a cantankerous fisherman, a philandering homeless man, a grieving widow. As we travel along the banks of the river, these seemingly unrelated stories become interwoven into a stunning narrative that is, at its heart, deeply rooted in a sense of place. In keeping with the themes at the center of Bêka and Lemoine’s explorations, A Journey Around the Moon does not focus on the architecture of the Garonne waterfront. Though the architecture itself is lovely and well loved, with its welcoming plazas, buzzing cafes, and network of bike and pedestrian paths, the film instead demonstrates how this space facilitates a variety of human experiences. The beauty of this film lies in its honesty and its understatement.
A Journey Around the Moon represents the most ambitious undertaking in the Living Architectures series to date. The film series, which began at the scale of the single-family residence in Koolhaas Houselife (2013) has progressively enlarged its scope until finally reaching the scale of the urban project. This scalar progression alludes to the underlying intent of Bêka and Lemoine’s narrative. From private to public, small to large, the dynamism of a space is inexorably linked to how it engages the people who inhabit it. Treating architecture not as a fetishized object but rather as a facilitator of dynamic human experiences, A Journey Around the Moon offers insight into the wide-reaching impact of design, and provides an inspiring framework for the modern architectural narrative.
Rachel Kaplan is an architectural designer in New York City.