To choose Iris Apfel as the subject of a serious documentary seems to be either outrageous, dilettante or bewildering. After all, the 94-year old New Yorker style maven, a successful interior designer and stylist, has never really been on the mainstream radar and is little known outside the US - and she has never done anything other than give people license to be who they really are and want to be, regardless of what others care.
That, in point of fact, is the exact reason why there's nothing outrageous, dilettante or bewildering about veteran documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles' decision to follow Ms. Apfel: she's inclusive, open-minded, funny, witty, disarming, alive - the quintessential New Yorker. 93 at the time of shooting, Ms. Apfel comes across as a product of her time who knew how to seize the day and make the best of what she'd been given (and that did not include beauty, as she admits she was never pretty and never wanted to be). She might not have been able to follow the same path if she had been born half a century later, since the unique place she carved for herself in the art and fashion world was so specific to America's post-war affluence.
In many ways, Mr. Maysles' final completed feature (premiering in late 2014, before his death in March 2015) is an unexpectedly engaging affirmation of life, a sketched portrait in pictures of someone who made her life and her world according to her own measurements. Slight it may be, but it's also a generous film, wonderfully alive to the possibilities of the moment, to the little doorways that we fail to notice but that once open lead us into wide, brim-filled courtyards. It's in there that Mr. Maysles' camera follows Iris Apfel and becomes energized by her sheer joie de vivre.
US, 2014, 80 minutes
Directed by Albert Maysles; camera by Mr. Maysles, Nelson Walker III, Sean Price Williams, Nick Canfield and Hugues Hariche; film editor Paul Lovelace; produced by Laura Coxson, Rebekah Maysles and Jennifer Ash Rudick, for Maysles Films
Screened December 6th 2015, Rivoli Theatre, Oporto (Porto/Post/Doc)