Is imitation truly a form of flattery? Or can this concept be pushed too far? The Real Thing takes us to China where copies of world architecture abound. An attempted recreation of the Taj Mahal, a Roman inspired basilica, a smaller (slightly leaning) Eiffel tower. An imitation of the Tower Bridge of London. Pyramids.

The point is put forward early when we meet the French creator of the basilica- it seems the French have had a lot to do with this documentary, or the buildings- that the large amount of money spent building the structure could have been used to help feed poorer families? The architect doesn’t agree, and while this point isn’t revisited it does hang over the film as we see more incredible recreations, or simulacra as they are known. The monuments are incredible, but it is hard to forget this accusation, as these creations are far from small. Where that money could have gone, who knows?

What is amazing though is that these monuments bring together communities, whether they are aware of the of the architecture or not. Surrounding the Eiffel Tower simulacra, located in Sky City, is French inspired housing and a community that appreciates the tower as a type of town centre.

Towns near the Tower Bridge simulacra are distinctly British in their design, again creating a community while also giving newly-weds a photo opportunity as if they were in Britain. One quote from a Chinese woman studying the subject gives us food for thought:

“Architecture doesn’t change people. People change architecture.”

Is this plagiarism? The film delves into philosophy as a Frenchman asks can we be in two places at once. Can we be nowhere and somewhere? Are the original creations trademarked? Do they belong to one country, or all of humanity?

Thursday, May 3, 4 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox
Sunday, May 6, 1:15 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox