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VOD Review: Mau

June 21, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Directors Jono Bergmann and Benji Bergmann deliver a glossy portrait of Canadian designer Bruce Mau in their aptly titled Mau, a stylish, slickly assembled documentary that is befitting of the man himself.

The film takes us through the highlights of Mau’s career, including first getting noticed with the 1995 design book “S,M,L,XL” that he co-wrote with Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, his 2004 exhibit Massive Change (and its planned followup Massive Action), and his controversial plan to redesign the Islamic religious site Mecca to make it more sustainable over the next thousand years.

The film is structured around an interview with Mau done in front of a blank background, with him often pacing around the white space playing with a slinky. This gives it the feel of a university lecture at times, matched by an occasionally distracting musical score, but what Mau has to say is almost always interesting.

Mau’s worldview has been accused of being utopian and too idealistic, but he counters this with what he calls “fact-based optimism,” a genuine belief in human potential and the ability to create a better future through design and technological advancements. “People often accuse me of being an optimist,” he says at one point, “and I am, I’m radically optimistic.” Mau’s ultimate belief is that the way we design our lives has an impact on the world, offering great potential for a “redesign,” an idea that the film does a pretty good job of summing up.

In more personal moments, Mau reflects on growing up in Sudbury, Ontario with an alcoholic father who moved there to get work in the nickel mines. Mau talks about being inspired to design cities by watching Montreal’s Expo 67 on a small black-and-white TV that provided his “only window into the world,” and how his design choices are like a mirror image of his barren, rural upbringing. We also hear from his wife and collaborator Bisi Williams, who reaffirms his worldview.

The film is short at just 78 minutes, and there are certain aspects that feel glossed over, but this also feels like an intentional aspect of the film’s design aesthetic, which packs a lot into a dense but easily digestible package. Bergmann and Bergmann have crafted a sleek and mostly entertaining overview of Mau’s career highlights, while also providing a decent introduction to his guiding principles and philosophies as a designer and person.

Mau is now available on a variety of Digital and VOD platforms. It’s being distributed in Canada by levelFILM.

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