Movie Reviews
9:46 am
Wed April 21, 2004

My Architect: A Son's Journey

A memorably objective documentary and an uncommonly informative biography.

I remember my dad through the countless hours I spent quietly riding with him on his house calls. He was a traveling buddy, not a physician. To this day I think of him when I travel and, coincidentally, when I'm sarcastic because that's also how he showed he cared.

Nathaniel Kahn's documentary called " My Architect," about his influential architect father, Louis I. Kahn, has the same loving nostalgia and stands in line this year with fiction films like "Big Fish" and "Barbarian Invasions" as sons search for their fathers, always finding them and themselves at the same time. In "Architect," however, son Nathaniel is different because he loves his roguish father from the start. Like me, he never doubted he loved his dad; he just needed to understand him.

The short, facially scarred genius resembled I.M. Pei in a small way with his big, black round glasses and eccentric mannerisms. Pei considered Khan a more romantic artist than he, and most critics would probably agree, especially when seeing his masterpiece, the capitol of Bangladesh in Dhaka, or other modern wonders like the Salk Institute in California, a library at Princeton, and the "music boat."

While the filmmaker son travels the world for five years to see Khan's glories and interview friends and relatives, no testimony is as powerful as his own loving recollections and photos when the architect on Sundays visited Nathaniel and his mother, one of three women to bear him children. The son wisely doesn't judge his father's neglect of his lovers or his 2 illegitimate children, making a memorably objective documentary and an uncommonly informative biography.

In the end, not even Nathaniel best reflects the respect Louis gained in his life. The best testimony comes from the Dhaka janitors who daily pray in the mosque of the capitol, like others in the film almost weeping when talking of the architect. That they think his name is "Farrakhan" adds to the sweet charm of a film that shows the lasting power of the architect regardless of his complicated, almost unknowable personal life.

As always, Shakespeare succinctly captures the passion of the father/son connection:

"My father is gone wild into his grave,

For in his tomb lie my affections;

And with his spirit sadly I survive."