I saw Obra (which means ‘work’, but can also mean ‘building works’) in 2015, at Barcelona’s Festival Internacional de Cine D’Autor. I liked the film sufficiently that I’ve periodically checked to see whether a DVD release has surfaced – no DVD has materialised, but I’ve just discovered that it’s available to stream on Amazon Prime in the UK (here). In São Paulo, young architect Joao Carlos (Irandhir Santos) discovers a clandestine burial on the worksite of his first important project, located in a lot belonging to his family. Writing for Eye for Film back in 2015, I said that:
The opening credits set up the basic through-line of the film, that the past may be hidden but it remains underneath waiting to be discovered – a theme underlined by Joao Carlos’s wife (Lola Peploe) working as an archaeologist in the centre of the city. Shot in a silvery black and white that at times has the texture of a pencil drawing, Obra’s first images show architectural forms gradually appearing in the morning mist, ghost-like structures that slowly accumulate into the form of São Paulo – but those initial shapes and outlines can still be observed within the overall image. Throughout the film, the textures and forms of buildings are contrasted as part of the fabric of a changing city, and the black and white composition captures elements of beauty in even the most rundown corner of the dense urban sprawl.
I don’t know whether it will stand up to the version I have in my memory, but it combines two of my persistent cinematic interests in a way that stood out for me in 2015: an unusual focus on – and use of – architectural space, and the idea of the city as palimpsest. I’m generally bad at following through on intentions to watch things at a later date, but hopefully I will manage to rewatch this sometime soon.