“The Proposal,” Jill Magid’s captivatingly wily documentary about her attempt to liberate the archives of the renowned Mexican architect Luis Barragán, wears many faces. Detailing at once an art project and a rescue mission, a love triangle and an elaborate, outlandish bargain, the movie has a surface serenity that belies its fuming emotions.
In this, it mirrors the three-year correspondence between Magid (a writer and artist who once trained as a spy), and the controller of the archives, Federica Zanco. Rumored to have acquired them in the mid-1990s as an engagement gift from her fiancé, the owner of a Swiss design conglomerate, Zanco rigidly guards them from all but limited public access in her foundation near Basel. Faced with major obstacles to mounting her own exhibition on Barragán (who died in 1988), Magid embarks on an epistolary seduction of increasing flattery and desperation.
As Magid putters around Barragán’s Mexico City studio, researching and plotting and painting her toenails, her voice-over pleas to Zanco — and the creamily polite rebuffs — turn the movie into a delicate duel between two women armed with obsessions for the same man. They will finally meet in a Swiss cafe, filmed hazily through a window (Jarred Alterman’s cinematography is consistently dreamy); yet Zanco’s romantically fuzzy aspect is fitting in a film that feels only tangentially concerned with corporate control of art.
Culminating in a brilliantly appropriate stunt (labeled a “ghoulish plot” by one news outlet), “The Proposal” meditates on the meaning of artistic legacy and hums with the fear of being wiped from public memory. Most of all, it shines an ingeniously media-savvy spotlight on Barragán’s work — and, not incidentally, on that of the filmmaker herself.
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Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 26 minutes.
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