The tumultuous relationship between the Irish-born designer and the Swiss architect is explored in Mary McGuckian’s docudrama The Price of Desire.
Film directed by Mary McGuckian
The Little Film Company / Pembridge Pictures (110 minutes)
Perched on the shores of the French Riviera sits a striking modernist masterpiece. Its white walls, large windows and flat roof – a prelude to the modernist dwellings that followed – are the work of one of the 20th century’s greatest designers, Irish-born Eileen Gray. Completed in 1929, Gray’s summer escape was called e.1027, and designed specifically for Gray’s on-again, off-again lover, architect Jean Badovici. The seaside abode is central to Mary McGuckian’s The Price of Desire, a docudrama biopic about Gray (played by Orla Brady), her architectural gem, and the tumultuous relationship she had with Swiss architect Le Corbusier (played by Vincent Perez), who defaced the home in what the film suggests is a fit of jealousy.
Introduced first as a mentor to Gray, doling out the precepts of modern design, McGuckian’s Le Corb quickly reveals his sexist ego, regularly breaking the fourth wall to address the audience, his pontificating dripping with patriarchal venom: “Intellectual women are an incurably complex addiction, engaging an enormous burden of emotional effort for little return.” After a breakup with Badovici, Gray abandons e.1027, and Le Corb hams it up as Badovici’s house guest, wearing only high-waisted bathing suits as he vandalizes Gray’s resolutely white walls with eight explicit murals that look like sad riffs on Picasso. It can only be interpreted as an attempt to erase Gray’s presence altogether.
Conversations about art, design and architecture are shot in uber-minimalist interiors either on location at e.1027 (now restored after years of neglect) or on recreated sets. Gray’s iconic furnishings are peppered throughout each scene; whether it’s a Bibendum chair, a Transat armchair, or the steel tubular daybed, her presence is always felt. Architecture and design enthusiasts – as well as those fascinated by intellectual property law and feminist cultural theory – will appreciate the respect McGuckian shows Gray, a woman who designed by her own rules and compromised for no one.
Nina Boccia is the director of programs at Design Exchange, Canada’s Design Museum.