It must be difficult to make a documentary about a museum or gallery and truly do it justice. You could fill a whole documentary with the lives of each artist and probably spend around 20 minutes talking about each item or work of art.
So to try and capture the combined experience of all exhibitions in one of the world’s most respected museums across a 90 minute film is incredibly ambitious and, if I’m honest, probably a bit foolish…
That might seem harsh, but The Prado Museum: A Collection of Wonders focuses on everything and in turn delivers absolutely nothing. There’s only so far standing Jeremy Irons in a moodily lit room can get you.
Put it this way, everyone has been to a museum or gallery that’s really interesting. But there’s always that one section you go into with an open mind and, three or four pieces in, you start to feel it: boredom. Or disinterest at least; it prompts lethargy. You conscientiously observe each piece for around 10 seconds just because you can and because you’ve paid the admission, but your head has completely gone and you try to move on as quickly as possible.
Now imagine someone is forcing you to stay in that section for an hour-and-a-half, only you’re not actually there, you can’t fully see any of the pieces, you cannot leave and Jeremy Irons is grunting in your ear. That is The Prado Museum: A Collection of Wonders.
I want to give you a synopsis, but I honestly can’t. We aimlessly wander around the Prado – a spectacularly important cultural and archaeological waypoint that has a proud place in Madrid and Spain’s collective histories, we are told – and are shown how the museum came to be and its displayed works.
That may sound an obvious summary and I don’t at all doubt The Prado’s significance, but honestly the film is all over the place and is such a mess that there’s no real direction or sense of purpose to it. Around 15 minutes in, we’d already covered about 5 different topics and around an hour in we’d covered the same ground at least three times.
There are interesting vignettes about Bosch’s work, the role of female artists in the Prado’s collection and the influence of Goya, but they’re never enough and don’t really tell you anything. They don’t elaborate on the truly interesting points of the documentary, they don’t educate and they’re (sadly) a bit boring.
A Collection of Wonders thinks it’s giving an insight or informal education into artists like Goya, but considering they have the largest collection of his anywhere in the world, they must spend around 10 cumulative minutes talking about him.
To be honest, there’s not much else to say. Nothing to elaborate on, nothing to spoil in the plotting of the piece and no real interesting titbits I picked up from watching. I don’t really feel any the wiser after it than I was going in.
The best description I can give is that it’s like a BBC 4 documentary that airs around 7pm on a Thursday, that you’ve just caught the end of before you watch something else, think, ‘ah, that might have been interesting’ and then move on with. Only it wasn’t interesting and you’re oblivious to the fact you’ve just saved ninety minutes of your life.
Would that stop me from visiting The Prado if I went to Madrid, though? Absolutely not. I think it does look an incredible collection of culturally significant works that would make for a really interesting day out and further reading if you wanted to. But my God I would hope the audio guide is better than this…
Dir: Valeria Parisi
Scr: Sabina Fedeli, Didi Gnocchi, Valeria Parisi
Featuring: Jeremy Irons, Norman Foster, Miguel Falomir, Andrés Úbeda de los Cobos, José de la Fuente, Enrique Quintana
Prd: Gloria Bogi, Franco di Sarro, Didi Gnocchi
DOP: Mateusz Stolecki
Music: Paolo Piccardo
Run Time: 92 mins
The Prado Museum: A Collection of Wonders is available now.