Architecture on Film: The Substance (La Substància) + Q&A with Lluís Galter

An imaginative blurring of fiction and documentary, dream and reality, exploring the real life recreation of Cadaqués, Spain as a replica resort for in 15,000 Zhangzhou, China. UK Premiere.


06:45pm, Tuesday, 12 September 2017


08:45pm, Tuesday, 12 September 2017


Cinema 2
Barbican, Beech Street, London EC2Y 8AE



AF Members:
£10.00 (Please contact AF for promotional discount code)


Young Barbican:

Tel (9am-8pm):
+44 (0)20 7638 8891

This is a past event

We are delighted that director Lluís Galter will be present for a Skype Q&A following the UK premiere of his film, in conversation with Gonzalo Herrero Delicado (architect, writer and Architecture Programme Curator at the Royal Academy of Arts).

The Substance (La Substància) [UK Premiere]
+ Q&A with Lluís Galter

In 2010 Chinese developers traveled to Cadaqués - a small costal Spanish fishing town beloved and made famous by Salvador Dalí - to research their plans to build a replica of the Costa Brava city as a holiday destination for 15,000 in Zhangzhou, 6,500 miles away on the other side of the globe.

In Luis Glater’s film, his protagonists - an eccentric Spanish local historian and model boat-builder and a young Chinese business woman waiting for her Xiamen Bay apartment to be completed - drift from one Cadaqués to the other in a blurring of dream and reality, fiction and documentary, original and copy, that mirrors the surreal situation of a town’s teleportation.

If a town has a replica it’s because it can. Because it deserves it. And because of the (more or less objective) fact that Cadaqués, Costa Brava, and Cadaqués, Zhangzhou are about as similar as an egg and a chestnut, the film tries to put things in their place and create a space of understanding where these two, at first unrecognizable, physical places converge through their respective images into a third virtual space, a simulacrum created to exist within the film alone.
- Lluís Galter

Bookended by adverts for the Chinese and Spanish Cadaqués, and folding in elements of the mundane and the mystical, and even the Spaghetti Western, Galter’s imaginative docu-fiction flattens time and space to create a meditative hybrid of the two towns, merging their realities in a cinematic quest for the ‘substance’ of a place.

Spain, 2016, Lluís Galter, 86 min

Programme Notes by Gonzalo Herrero Delicado

"The most sophisticated replica is the one that doesn’t seem to resemble the original. It is the original."
– Lluís Galter, director, The Substance

Cadaqués is one of the most iconic towns on the Catalonian coast in North-Eastern Spain. The remote location in a rocky bay bathed by the crystalline blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea has been a refuge and source of inspiration for many artists over the last decades. But it’s the artist Salvador Dalí who truly gave Cadaqués its sparkle, spending part of his youth in this village where he also met his muse and later wife Gala. The whitewashed village is now a popular holiday destination drawing throngs of summer visitors every year.

In 2010 Chinese promoters travelled to Cadaqués to research their plans to build a 100-acre replica of the town, recreating its essence, including an artificial island. Their aim was to create a holiday destination for 15,000, reproducing the most characteristic elements of Cadaqués’ architecture in a location with a similar coastline in the South-Eastern Chinese area of Zhangzhou. The Chinese Cadaqués is presently a ghost town inhabited by its invigilators, building workers and cleaners, fenced in to avoid visitors and dotted with pictures of the original Cadaqués plus some sculptures resembling those of Dalí. Six years later, the town centre is fully finished but empty of the lively, easy-going and inspirational atmosphere that characterises the original village which is in large part the reason for the Spanish Cadaqués’  success, appeal and in other words, its essence.

This ambitious project caught the attention of filmmaker and screenwriter Lluís Galter, prompting him to create a film about it, mirroring stories between the original and the newly-built town. The narrative of the film is rather mischievous, taking the viewer from artificial to original landscapes, merging fictional and true stories that open opportunities to also imagine new ones. The two protagonists are an eccentric Spanish local historian and model boat-builder based in the original Cadaqués and a young Chinese business woman waiting for her apartment to be completed in the new village. The first character narrates how the city has evolved from a small fishing village into a touristic destination crowded by tourists. He anchors the film to the past and the reality of these stories that built up the character of Cadaqués, while the young Chinese entrepreneur, who lives in the hectic city of Xiamen, speculates about how her life will be in her future, still to be finished, coastal apartment. Her dreams rely upon an architecture attempting to connect with a lifestyle yet to be constructed, extracted from the original essence of Cadaqués.

In his fictional documentary, director Lluis Galter explores the substance of places, unravelling what makes a place genuine and authentic. The identity of a place is built not only by what physically constitutes its built environment but by the people inhabiting it and the actions they perform there in their daily lives. The reproduction of a catholic church or a public square seem completely pointless when they are detached from the context and cultural connotations that provide them a true meaning.

The replica built in Zhangzhou is just a nutshell of what Cadaques really is both in scale and meaning, a sort of theme park for Chinese tourists looking for an exotic experience during their holidays. The development is far from ideal and the director reminds the viewer of this throughout the film, by zooming out his camera to show the reality of the urban context surrounding the Chinese Cadaqués. The wider angles unravel a background of skyscrapers surrounding the Mediterranean-inspired resort, anchoring the fictional narratives to the reality of the set’s location. This zooming resource gives the viewer a closer look at the everyday human actions giving sense to this architecture, but also emphasises the blurry boundaries in the script’s movement from fiction to reality, from a show-home to a fisherman’s shed.

But can this copy of Cadaqués become an example for future preservation strategies of our built environment? In a world in continuous change, our built environments are in risk of being drastically transformed by the effects of globalisation. Hundreds of developments exclusively targeted to foreign tourists are taking place in many other locations in Spain and the rest of Southern Europe. These developments overlook local identity to meet the tough requirements of foreign tourists, creating brand new ghettos for a flood of wealthier contemporary colonists looking for warmer weather in an affordable real state market.

The brilliant approach of Galter in The Substance raises many questions about how urban identity is constructed in a globalised world. It doesn´t matter if this is happening 6,500 miles away or within the distance of a Ryanair flight. These days, the essence of places is a valuable asset, a bargaining chip with direct impacts on society, politics and economy to be aware of. In a time of permanent flux of people, culture and thinking, what defines what is authentic or fake? What is the real essence, the ‘substance’, of the places that we inhabit?