German director Wim Wenders ("Paris, Texas," "The Salt of the Earth") has moved easily between documentaries and feature films throughout his career, receiving accolades and awards in both genres (even one of his most famous films, “Wings of Desire,” began life as a documentary about Berlin). With his latest feature, “Perfect Days,” Japan’s submission for the 2024 International Oscar, waiting in the wings for U.S. theatrical release, Wenders’ new documentary arrives first, a portrait of his contemporary, German artist “Anselm.”
Laura's Review: A-
In his second portrayal of an artist utilizing 3D technology, Wim Wenders innovates in other ways as well, employing both the artist’s son Daniel and his own son Anton to portray Anselm Kiefer as a young boy and in middle age while also using the medium to enter dioramas used to frame archival footage. Both devices feed into Wenders’ structure of defining the artist by time periods working in different ateliers and by Kiefer’s relationship to his home country’s recent past history, most movingly conversing through his work with that of the Jewish Romanian poet Paul Celan.
Wenders begins with Kiefer’s most recent work in Barjac, France, his camera slowing circling the outdoor sculpture of a woman’s gown, part of his ‘Les Femmes Martyres’ exhibition, continuing into a greenhouse space on 200 acres which have been turned into a continuous art installation. The enormity of Kiefer’s atelier is felt as we watch him bicycle around it, passing huge mural paintings and supply storage lofts suggesting the “Raiders of the Lost Ark” warehouse. We begin to get a sense of the darkness in much of his work as huge panels encrusted with straw are rolled in front of him to burn and char with a blowtorch.
After Celan’s words declaring Deutschland a master of death scroll down the screen, Anselm wonders how it must have felt for the poet to have to create his art with the German language. We get an early history of Kiefer who faced charges of fascism because of his depictions of it. While he was celebrated in the United States, his historical confrontations caused controversy in his homeland, most notably for his ‘Sieg Heil’ photo series.
Daniel Kiefer eerily stares directly at the camera, the picture of young German youth, an image we will recall when Anselm admits he does not know how he would have reacted in certain circumstances (he will not allow an interviewer to call him ‘anti-fascist’ so as to not insult those who actively fought it during the war). Wenders’ son depicts the artist in middle age photographing trees, yet another medium and subject for his art. Kiefer’s 1990 multi media depiction of Jason and the Argonauts is a symbolic representation of the story that brings to mind a wreck strewn across the ocean floor.
Wenders 2011 3D "Pina," about the modern ballet choreographer, was the most striking use of the medium in its time. Although I did not have the chance to view this latest work in 3D, one can still sense its effect in 2D, but here the camerawork, which not only defines space but the textural quality of the artist’s work, is augmented by an intriguing sound design as well, one consisting of whispers, song and recitations. “Anselm” is the cinematic equivalent of a multi media artwork.
Robin's Review: B
Anselm Keifer was born in Germany during the waning days of WWII. He became an accomplished artist, incorporating large formats and using such materials as clay, straw, lead, fire, ash and shellac for his creations. His art deals with taboo subjects and controversial issues, including themes of Nazism, and comes under the watchful gaze of Wim Wanders’ documentary camera in “Anselm.”
Wenders shot this film about the works of Anselm Kiefer in 3D and does a marvelous job of displaying the artist’s copious creations and the painstaking details of how those creations came to be. I say “about the works” of Kiefer and not about the artist himself as I got only a brief look into his life but mostly of his paintings and sculptures.
The only real look I got into Anselm’s early artistic life was through series of old black and white photos of Keifer, in various locations, giving the Nazi salute while wearing his father’s Wehrmacht uniform. At worst, it was an unintentional but heinous honor to the Nazis and, at best, a brain dead act of callous youth. I, for one, reacted negatively to the display as a symbol of hate and it colored my attitude toward the artist in a bad way. It was a big mistake by the filmmaker, however well-intentioned.
If you saw Wenders’ 2011 3D film, “Pina,” about German dancer and choreographer Pina Bausch, you were treated to one of the best 3D experiences, ever. Pina’s dances, coupled with Wenders’ fluidly moving 3D cameras, make for a visually stunning film of movement and grace. I saw “Anselm” in 2D and was hard pressed to see where three dimensions would be necessary. We are talking about static art versus human movement. It made me want to see “Pina” again in 3D.
The most striking visuals in “Anselm” are his giant paintings made with the above-mentioned materials, especially fire, and the absolutely enormous warehouse space that is his workspace. As the camera follows Keifer as he bicycles around his massive facility, I felt the familiar note of the last moments in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” as the camera showed the vastness of the secret government facility that stored the ark.
Unfortunately, the stunning art works and the vast space for its creation do not change the fact that I came out of “Anselm” with not a lot of knowledge about the man. His art and creation process is, at least, interesting to watch.
Janus Films released "Anselm" in select theaters on 12/8/23, expanding in subsequent weeks. Click here for show times.