The 2016 art installation titled “The Floating Piers,” a bright yellow walkway temporarily constructed on the surface of Italy’s Lake Iseo via a system of 226,000 buoyant, interlocking polyethylene cubes, was meant, according to the artist Christo, to create the illusion that visitors were literally walking on water. The loose, almost fabric-like structure of the piece undulated with the waves, like the back of some giant, serpentine sea creature on whose spine you were riding: a tame Loch Ness monster in marigold skin.
But as the part fascinating, part frustrating documentary “Walking on Water” makes clear, the experience was far from a purely aesthetic one. Once it opened in mid-June, after the preparatory screaming fits and arguments documented by filmmaker Andrey Paounov in the weeks leading up to the opening, there were long lines, unbearable heat, cold rain and even a lost child that organizers — and visitors — had to contend with. At one point, Christo — who first conceived of “Piers” in 1970, with his wife and collaborator Jeanne-Claude (who died in 2009) — threatened to shut down the whole thing early because of safety concerns about the number of people flocking to it.
Christo, who at the time was reported as saying that long waits were part of the experience, also describes “Piers” as something Zenlike on camera. And while it may have ultimately been so for some visitors — once new crowd controls were put in place, and the project’s round-the clock hours were dramatically curtailed — Paounov’s film does not make it seem like very much fun.
Rather than focus on the engineering and logistics of “Piers,” which actually sound really intriguing, the filmmaker trains his camera on general bickering and whining instead — about what kind of chain to use or about how to get Skype and other technologies to work right — to an almost unpleasant degree. Christo is a colorful character, with some very set opinions about how things should be done. But a little yelling goes a long way. And scenes of the artist’s nephew (and project manager) Vladimir Yavachev trimming Christo’s unruly eyelashes with scissors feel like filler.
Only the last 10 minutes or so of the film make “Piers” look like something anyone might regret having missed — or like a fond memory, if you’re one of the estimated 1.2 million people lucky enough to have walked on water. Otherwise, the documentary might make you believe in miracles, considering how tedious — if not impossible — this interactive artwork comes across.
Unrated. At Landmark’s E Street Cinema. Contains brief obscenity. In English and some Italian without subtitles. 105 minutes.