Calcata (2017)

Calcata, Anna Ulrikke Andersen ( 2017) HDV, 12:00. Featuring Paolo Portoghesi. Language: English, Italian, German. Subtitles: English.

The Italian village Calcata is located in Lazio about an hour north of Rome. I travelled there in February 2016 to interview the then 85 year-old Italian architect Paolo Portoghesi, eager to learn more about his close friendship with the late, Norwegain architectural theorist Christian Norberg-Schulz, and their shared interest in architecture. Portoghesi politely answered my questions, and the interview lasted for about 50 minutes. As the interview was coming to an end, he suggested that we leave his office and go to his nearby home, so that he could show me some drawings and photographs.

The architectural historian in me was excited. Visiting his home would most likely reveal interesting things about his friendship with Norberg-Schulz. However, as a filmmaker, Portoghesi’s suggestion made me nervous. My camera was heavy and since I was alone, I would not be able to carry the equipment with me. I had to make a decision quickly. Instead of trying to bring the camera, I brought with me the sound recorder. The screen goes dark as I followed him into that dark February evening.

Timothy Corrigan claims that one of the defining features of the essay film genre, is subjectivity expressed through experiential encounters,[1] and I believe that the uncertainty I experienced as Portoghesi suggested we leave the comfort of the frame, prompted such an encounter. As a filmmaker, my full attention was now on the sound recorder, worrying about the quality and volume as we walked through these changing circumstances. I followed him from one building to another, encountering the people and animals inhabiting them. On tape, I captured a highly subjective experience of Portoghesi’s fantastical house: a place with dogs, original prints of rare books, photographs and unexpected conversations about forgotten, overlooked and undiscussed subjects (including his fascination of the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke) took place.

Just before the screen turns black, my hands are visible in to the left of the screen. My voice becomes part of the conversation. Taking up the role as both filmmaker and protagonist, I am flipping pages of a book, writing key words, or copying a poem in a foreign language. The lack of visual imagery prompted a film where what is seen, understood, communicated and heard remains unclear, enforced by the use of several languages: English, Italian, German and French. I make my voice more and more pronounced, culminating at the end of the film which repeats the beginning and my position as filmmaker is focused. I am the editor exploring Calcata and it’s spaces. I pick up on Penelope Haralambidou’s [2] suggestion that architectural essay films can construct memory as architecture, when I consider Portoghesi’s home in Calcata. We journey through the darkness, where fragments of his life and thoughts are make their way into conversation, or epitomised through published books and visual archival material.

In this way Portoghesi’s unforeseen suggestion to leave the camera behind, as a specific moment which happened in the making of the film Calcata, resulted in footage, techniques and editing drawn from the genre of the essay film. The result opens up new was to consider my engagement with the architectural history of the place and its people.


[1] Timothy Corrigan, The Essay Film: From Montaigne After Maker (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011) 30.

[2] Penelope Haralambidou, “The Architectural Essay Film”, in Architectural Research Quarterly, 234 – 248, vol 19, no 3, 2016, 237.

Calcata (2017) premiered at the Essay Film Festival 2017 at Birkbeck University of London, as part of the session “The Making of an Architectural Essay Film”.

The project was realised with the kind support of:
Stenseth Grimsrud Arkitekter AS
The Bartlett Doctoral Research Projects Fund
The Norwegian Institute in Rome

Translation from Italian to English by Davide Spina

Thanks to:
Jane Rendell, Claire Thomson, Mikkel Due, Gregorio Astengo, Clara Jo, Léa-Catherine Szacka, Paolo Portoghesi, Maria Ercadi, Studio Portoghesi, The Bartlett Film+Place+Architecture Doctoral Network, Ole H. Gaudernack and The Norberg-Schulz Library, The Architectural Collections, The National Museum of Art Architecture and Design, Oslo.

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