Review: Dreaming Walls: Inside the Chelsea Hotel

Written and directed by Maya Duverdier and Amélie van Elmbt, the end of a long upmarket renovation of the legendary Chelsea Hotel is partly longed for and partly dreaded by the artists who still live there. The film grants us access to their apartments and interweaves the past with the present.

Preserving places of historical and cultural significance is becoming a more frequent topic as forward progress seems to leave little time or investment in remembering what came before. Dreaming Walls: Inside the Chelsea Hotel embraces the age of the artist, the hotel’s residents created a bohemia haven to nurture creativity and are reluctant to let it go. The fight is an extremely personal one, with strong nostalgic themes running throughout the film, with the memories of the hotel’s long surviving residents intrinsically tied to the architecture of the building. It’s sweet, a little bit offbeat and old-fashioned, and it flows at its own pace, not following a strict structure or path.

The overall style has a conversational feel, it’s dipping into the lives of this unique collection of people. It’s lovely to enter such a place and to see the artistic, passionate and eccentric atmosphere which they’ve created, and it’s easy to understand why they’re so keen to hang on to it. It’s also interesting to delve into the subject through the lens of renovation being a necessity to keep the building safely operating versus how much those renovations are taking from its unusual charm. It isn’t dived into too deeply, as again it is quite a free-form style, breezing around from person to person.

Unfortunately, while it works, that style does mean that it loses some of its intrigue and doesn’t quite manage to build a bigger message. It’s a nice experience to be able to take an intimate look into the beloved memories of these residents, including some genuinely moving moments but it doesn’t create one cohesive piece. Rather, it’s a group of anecdotes, draped in a sadness for what they’re losing, while celebrating the past.

Dreaming Walls: Inside the Chelsea Hotel is a loving walk down memory lane, and if you’re a fan of the bohemian culture of the 1970s, then this film is for you. It’s dedicated to preserving the love the residents have for the Chelsea Hotel, and they’re a captivating group of colourful individuals. There’s then a shroud of fear and sadness for what they’re losing, and grasping for dear life onto the atmosphere of nurturing creativity that they’ve created. It’s sweet and an interesting watch but it’s simply missing out on something to bring it all together, a more tangible goal or message to balance out its freely flowing style.

Verdict: ✯✯✯ | 6/10

Coming to UK cinemas 20 January 2023

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