Anselm Kiefer Explored: Wim Wenders’ Reverential 3D Portrait Reviewed

Wim Wenders’ film about German artist Anselm Kiefer evokes amazement, terror, and even a kind of reverently docu-dramatized PTSD.

The painter, photographer, enormous installation artist, and illustrated book artist is lauded but also chastised for his involvement with German fascism and the Holocaust, which he mediated through his lifelong love of Paul Celan’s poetry.

The video depicts his work, with little archive interview material. However, there are some fancifully planned but skillfully done fantasy scenes of the artist as a child and young ad*lt. The term may refer to using his first name more formally, like Leonardo or Michelangelo.

Wenders delivers this film in 3D, as he did with his Pina Bausch study in 2011 – the three dimensions’ effect was to emphasize the dancers’ physicality.

It has a more architectural effect at Kiefer’s studio settings, particularly at his huge 40-hectare atelier site La Ribaute in Barjac, near Nîmes in the south of France, which, with all of its enormous exhibition halls and sculpture gardens, is effectively this creator’s own city-state.

Anselm Kiefer Explored: Wim Wenders' Reverential 3D Portrait Reviewed

The 3D delineates the immense forms and gigantic structures that loom up and out of the screen: we are immersed in this location in the same manner that visitors would be, if not more so, because the camera is positioned on drones and platforms, and the video constantly pushes you to go into cathedral-rubbernecker mode.

Watching the artist at work, wandering or cycling around his massive warehouse, with inventions piled or stacked in every corner, is both fascinating and terrifying.

Does he have any assistants? The film doesn’t show any, although there are some individuals doing the menial work of assisting him with the machinery he requires, especially while he is painting enormous moodscape canvases using charred and b*rned materials.

Although there are gobsmacked laughs to be had when you see Kiefer with an actual flamethrower incinerating the straw-matted surface of a painting to get that texture of devastation, he is accompanied by someone whose job it is to spray water on the surface immediately afterward to make sure things don’t get out of hand.

Kiefer looks to be a severe cigar smoker in this film: fortunately, he doesn’t have one lit while doing this, but his insurance bills must be sky-high.

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Of course, Kiefer’s angry, passionate, haunted images are driven by Germany’s dark past. Wenders’s film persuasively suggests that the seed of inspiration is to be found in the ruins of 1945, the year of the artist’s birth.

The indelible images of broken Berlin provide the dark tumult from which Kiefer’s work emerges. Kiefer developed work derived from fascist or Nazi iconology or the 19th-century German mythic themes that the Nazis used in a confrontationally transgressive and humorous mood.

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However, Wenders’ film allows some room for Kiefer’s adversaries, who argue that he is riding a wave of demonic inspiration and that his work is having its anti-fascist cake and eating it.

Kiefer is shown in old footage repudiating these suggestions although the issue is not raised in the present tense. Dismissing Kiefer’s macho grandeur and the “headless women” ball gowns that dominate the film’s opening part is still feasible.

Nonetheless, this is a brilliantly controlled and conveyed film, with a high level of seriousness about the nature and purpose of art that is energizing.

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