“Eye-conic”: Viva “Sagrada!”

Swiss writer/director Stefan Haupt’s documentary Sagrada, The Mystery of Creation (Sagrada, El Misteri de la Creació) is about a unique and one of the world’s most enigmatic, celebrated churches. In 1882 the then 30-year-old architect Antoni Gaudí took over the process of creating and guiding Sagrada Família (Holy Family) in Barcelona. Although the Catalan architect died in 1926, almost 90 years later his basilica remains a major construction site still being built.

Gaudí’s eye-popping, imaginative architecture is iconic, neo-Gothic aesthetics colliding with Art Nouveau, a cross between the surrealistic paintings of his fellow Catalan, Salvador Dalí, and Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers in Los Angeles. The Spaniard’s spires reach for the sky, soaring toward the heavens with curvy topsy-turvy towers and façades melting like Dalí’s watches. Woody Allen used it to great effect as a setting for 2008’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

Sagrada Família really has to be seen to be believed, and Haupt’s nonfiction film does a good job in revealing it, as well as the controversies, mysteries and mystique surrounding this unfinished monument to God and Gaudí. The filmmaker also explores the subterranean depths of the creative process.

Haupt, a gifted director, tells his tale through spiritual, sweeping cinematography – interior, exterior and often aerial – and with usually subtitled interviews plus narration, which Haupt co-wrote with Martin Witz and is spoken in the English version by Trevor Roling.

Sagradas cast of characters includes a number of unusual eccentrics who have found meaning in what would otherwise likely be drab existences by attaching their personal fates to that of fulfilling the unfolding of Gaudí’s visionary edifice. The talking head who seems most striking is stonecutter Etsuro Sotoo, a Japanese Zen Buddhist who, while sculpting Sagrada Família, converted to Catholicism in order to understand and pursue what he imagines the mind-blowing Gaudí was trying to achieve.

Haupt, who is one of Switzerland’s top auteurs currently making movies, has made more documentaries than features. The Circle (Der Kreis) is a fact-based drama about the struggle for gay rights in Switzerland that combines fiction and nonfiction film techniques. That well-made, heartfelt film was Switzerland’s Official Submission for Best Foreign Language Film at the 87th Academy Awards and winner of a number of festival awards.

Watching Sagrada may make a true believer out of you. This documentary is especially for those interested in architecture, religion, travel and creativity. Haupt’s latest film proves once again that Swiss cinema is a force to be reckoned with on the international screen.

Sagrada – The Mystery of Creation is now playing in the U.S. How clever to open this filmic feast for the eyes about the sacred over the Easter/Passover weekend.

Sagrada – The Mystery of Creation

Director: Stefan Haupt

Writer: Stefan Haupt

Stars: Jordi Bonet i Armengol, Etsuro Sotoo, Anna Huber |



Ed Rampell
Ed Rampell

Ed Rampell is an LA-based film historian and critic, author of "Progressive Hollywood: A People’s Film History of the United States," and co-author of "The Hawaii Movie and Television Book." He has written for Variety, Television Quarterly, Cineaste, New Times L.A., and other publications. Rampell lived in Tahiti, Samoa, Hawaii, and Micronesia, reporting on the nuclear-free and independent Pacific and Hawaiian Sovereignty movements.