German filmmaker Wim Wenders is one of the most creatively curious artists working today. His portrait of the German artist Anselm Kiefer is one of two new films (the other being Tokyo-set drama, Perfect Days) he premiered at Cannes this year. Wenders’ documentary work is fascinated with the creative process – his award-winning odes to Cuban musicianship in Buena Vista Social Club and late choreographer Pina Bausch in 2011’s Pina are standouts.
Anselm is Wenders’ first 3D film since the aforementioned Pina. And much like that film, it’s a reminder that true artists use technology to deepen the story, rather than making technology into the story. Wenders deploys 3D like a painter using a certain colour.
There’s a whole subgenre of ‘process’ docs, which are a treat for anyone (like me) who loves to see how the creative sausage is made. Wenders, however, is striving for something bigger, more elemental. Anselm is a vivid portrait of Kiefer, an artist whose work and worldview weave in time, philosophy, history, memory, and myth. Wenders is uninterested in giving viewers a blow-by-blow of Kiefer’s biography or success stories or controversies. His camera watches Kiefer at work, painting, burning, directing and thinking. Reveries and readings, memories and influences, blend together as Kiefer, in his boyish, young man and older forms, guides us through his process. It is art ASMR of the highest order.
It’s art ASMR of the highest order
Anselm disposes of linearity to follow the thinking patterns of an artist, weaving in dramatic reenactments of Kiefer as a child (played by Wenders’ own great-nephew) and as a young man finding success in the international art world. For newcomers to his art, the film works, in part, as an all-enveloping tour of his sculptures, installations, and paintings – all of them enormous and overwhelming – weaved together with Kiefer’s influences, like Romanian poet Paul Celan.
Wenders has said that Kiefer can ‘paint the universe, and he can paint mathematical formulas, and he can paint history, and he can paint myths, biology, alchemy’. The film’s biggest success is capturing the scale on which Kiefer’s work operates, from the size of his working studio (so huge he has to use a bike to get from painting to painting) to the dark profundity of his thinking, especially the work he made during a time when Germany was unable or unwilling to face the horrors of its own past. Kiefer’s work, as the film reminds us, is the perfect protest against forgetting.
In cinemas worldwide Dec 8.