The film Concrete Love, directed by Maurizius Staerkle-Drux, explores the life and work of renowned German architect Gottfried Böhm. The film has a central focus on the personal and professional relationships the noted builder has with his wife and three sons, all of whom work together in the family’s architectural business. Although the documentary follows the day to day life of the 93-year-old Böhm, perhaps the most interesting aspect of Concrete Love is its examination of the emotional and creative dynamics at play between members of this talented family.
The central irony of Concrete Love is the fact that although even its title references love, apart from a couple of brief sequences, the film features little to no real sense of closeness between members of the Böhm family. Throughout the documentary each person maintains a cool and measured business-like distance from one another. It’s as if their shared love of architecture is one of the few things binding them together. Concrete Love depicts a portrait of a family ripe with sibling and parental rivalry with everyone striving to outdo one another in a spirit of competition rather than cooperation. Even the family matriarch, Elisabeth, who’s portrayed as the glue that holds the clan together, is shown to be a bitter woman robbed of her own career. During one interview outside of her home, rather than illustrating their love for one another, the old woman refers to how, when she wore her wedding ring, she felt obligated to keep up the marriage. In another scene, Gottfried reveals that earlier in his career after winning a prestigious award, his wife walked out of the ceremony while he was giving his acceptance speech because she was embarrassed.
Again and again Concrete Love reminds viewers of how Elisabeth sacrificed her own career aspirations for the sake of her family. Like a majority of women during this time in history she clearly believed that her role as wife and mother took precedence over her own goals as her own work took a back seat to the professional achievements of her husband.
The emotional distance between father and sons is also referred to many times during Concrete Love. Perhaps it’s indicative of his own German upbringing, but Gottfried even makes the telling comment that he never understood young children and therefore largely left the chores of childcare up to his wife until they were older. As adults, his sons Stephan, Peter, and Paul all seem to agree on how critical their father was and indeed continues to be in terms of critiquing their work and the architectural philosophies guiding their own individual building projects. The rivalry between father and son is given further emphasis during a scene that takes place at an opening ceremony for a structure that one of the sons built. The son muses that if his father had attended the event, the elder Böhm would have garnered all the attention.
Throughout the documentary, director Staerkle-Drux makes optimum use of home movie and archival footage, thus providing viewers with a sense of intimacy and an unfiltered glimpse back in time. At one point in the film, Gottfried and his older brother are shown watching home movies using an old film projector. In this digital age such a seemingly mundane sequence not only draws attention to how times have changed but also gives viewers a rare opportunity to share the experience of reflecting back on the lives of the two elderly men.
It should be noted that Concrete Love not only won the 2014 Goethe Prize, it was also the recipient of the jury award at Montreal’s 2015 Festival International Du Film Sur L’Art.
Concrete Love is now available on DVD.