Renowned German filmmaker Wim Wenders is no stranger to intimate artistic portraits. With documentaries on creative icons like choreographer Pina Bausch and photographer Sebastiao Salgado under his belt, Wenders now turns his humane yet critical lens to his legendary compatriot, artist Anselm Kiefer. Prepare to dive headfirst into Kiefer’s monolithic paintings, sculpture installations, and the philosophical mind behind them.
Shot in striking 3D, Anselm guides us through the aesthetic evolution of Kiefer’s multimedia works across decades spent in his different studios in France and Germany. Beyond fly-on-the-wall documentary footage, Wenders also masterfully weaves in dramatized vignettes of the artist’s younger selves, played by Kiefer’s son Daniel and the director’s own great-nephew. These creative liberties bring an added depth and poeticism to this artistic epic spanning both time and space.
So leave expectations of a standard biopic behind. Anselm seeks not to explain the man, but to envelop us in his artistic realm. If anyone can capture the scale and texture of Kiefer’s monumental visions, it may be the visually adventurous and spiritually attuned Wenders. Walk alongside the two German creative titans as they compel us to confront history and collective conscience. This promises to be a thinking person’s art immersion, one that warrants repeat viewings to fully unpack.
Wrestling with Germany’s Demons
Don’t come anticipating gentle paintings of pastoral fields or quaint village scenes from Anselm Kiefer. The artistic iconoclast focuses his mighty talents on confronting the collective demons of his German homeland. Specifically, Kiefer relentlessly addresses the aftermath of Nazi atrocities and WWII itself, which ravaged the towns he wandered in childhood. Consider his artwork an epic attempt to break German society’s willed amnesia over its harrowing near-past.
Early on, Kiefer’s photography series “Heroic Figures” depicted him striking Hitler’s infamous Nazi salute at sites tied to Third Reich horrors. Rather than endorsing fascism’s symbols, Kiefer wanted to compel Germany to examine its blood-soaked history buried under collective guilt. Still, these images predictably incited controversy across the art establishment.
In his gargantuan paintings, epic in size and philosophical scope, Kiefer probes the metaphysical darkness birthed by unimaginable state-sponsored violence. He immerses organic matter like straw, clay, lead, sand, and even his own hair into his gigantic canvases before torching or melting their surfaces. It’s destruction as a ritual of creation and purification. This scarring technique, along with ashen textures, evokes both German cities razed during WWII and pockmarked human souls that survived the horrors.
Guiding Kiefer’s haunting visions are the words of Holocaust survivor-poet Paul Celan and philosopher Martin Heidegger, whose later silence on his Nazi associations Kiefer called out. By stewing in the cauldron of annihilation’s aftermath with such artistic giants, we see Kiefer determined to alchemize the unthinkable into timeless human truth.
An Artist’s Realm in Stereoscopic Splendor
Prepare for a visual feast unlike any artistic documentary you’ve experienced before. Anselm unveils Kiefer’s gargantuan installations through the lens of striking 3D technology. Shooting in expansive 6K resolution, cinematographer Franz Lustig guides us through the spaces with gliding camera moves and swooping cranes. The effect screams for IMAX screens to fully engulf our peripheral vision.
In the cavernous airplane hangars and warehouses Kiefer calls his studios, the stereoscopic cameras dance around his often monumental canvases and sculpture constructions. The immersive angles and depth perception practically dare us to reach out and touch their cragged textures and etched surfaces ourselves. This perspective satisfies as both majestic overview and extreme close-up study. It resembles our optical engagement when standing awestruck before Kiefer’s works in person.
Yet Anselm refuses to limit itself as just a visual spectacle. Alongside documentary footage, Wenders deftly splices in dramatized vignettes of Kiefer’s youth, with his son Daniel and the director’s young relative playing the younger analogs. Daniel wanders snowy forests and rubble-strewn streets that soon materialize in his father’s epic paintings. Other scenes superimpose multiple film layers into dissolves evoking both memory and the creative mind itself.
The lighting and color palette also echo the cycle of seasons, underscoring the passage of years across the artist’s evolutionary arc. As with Kiefer’s own practice of destruction and creation, scenes decay into deterioration before our eyes before returning renewed. Much like its enigmatic subject, Anselm demands repeated visits to unpack its buried meanings and interwoven motifs. This is virtuosic filmic canvas in its own right.
Art Emerging from the Ashes
Anselm remains first and foremost a portrait of Kiefer’s creative evolution rather than a standard biography. It chronicles his aesthetic arc not through dry exposition, but by plunging us directly into the spaces that birthed his multimedia works. Prepare for an immersion into Kiefer’s artistic process spanning decades and various studios in Germany and France.
Wenders concentrates much attention on La Ribaute, Kiefer’s massive warehouse and sculpture garden complex near his hometown of Barjac. In wandering these structures, we behold finished pieces alongside half-sculpted canvases dripping in clay or coated in ash mid-creation. Kiefer even wields immense industrial blowtorches to melt and scar their surfaces, like a blacksmith commissioned by the gods.
These brazen acts of destruction crucially fuel his artistic ritual. As critic John Powers observes, “It’s easy for films about the importance of creativity to present it as a purely generative act” of additive beauty. But Kiefer understands creation also relies on ruination, distress, and decay – capturing both existence’s fragility and its supernatural endurance. From charred sculpture materials to Nordic winter scenes dissolving into spring resurrection, Anselm reveals creation emerging from ashes literal and symbolic.
Beyond the technical virtuosity, Wenders illuminates Kiefer’s underlying artistic imperatives that guide his epic scope. His studio grids call to mind cities bombed in war even as sprouting sunflowers signal rebirth and hope. According to Kiefer, his duty is not to blithely paint lovely landscapes, but rather the battered terrain “after the tanks have rolled over them.” In stewing over humanity’s basest atrocities, Kiefer strives to commemorate, reflect, and perhaps absolve the German communal soul from its unspoken guilt. It’s art emerging from the ashes of history’s darkest hours.
Probing Art’s Thorniest Questions
Anselm succeeds not just as a sensorial artistic immersion, but also as an intellectual meditation on creativity’s deeper questions. Kiefer’s body of work and Wenders’ approach provoke us to examine issues critical for appreciating provocative and misunderstood pioneers.
One recurrent motif is time’s circulatory nature as the “fourth dimension,” both in Kiefer’s aesthetic evolution over decades and in Germany reconciling its painful history. Scenes layer the past upon the present, suggesting the imminent return of horror under humanity’s hubris. Kiefer conveys time as an Ouroboros serpent swallowing its own recursive tail.
This cyclicality also questions whether mankind has actually progressed morally despite our technological advances. Must one generation after another keep relearning the barbarism born of prejudice and nationalism? Can a society effectively bury inconvenient sins, or will they resurface if left simmering in darkness? More broadly, are we fated to walk the same rings of Dante’s Inferno in perpetuity?
Additionally, Anselm explores crowd psychology and whether whole groups can be implicated in the transgressions of their compatriots. Where does personal culpability begin and end? Kiefer clearly rejects his countrymen wishing to claim innocence via willful ignorance under Nazi fascism. How can art meaningfully advance collective healing without sugarcoating?
Finally, Anselm examines ethical boundaries around interpreting historically painful art, tied to current debates over artistic appropriation. Does re-envisioning traumatic events risk glossing over their gravity? Or like Kiefer, do artists bear an imperative to wrestle with humanity’s darkest moments as historical spiritual witness? Not all these questions have neat answers, but the artist raises them for essential discussion.
An Unflinching Artistic Reckoning
In Anselm, Wim Wenders trains his masterful lens on national treasure Anselm Kiefer’s massively provocative multimedia works. Audiences prepared to ponder challenging questions will discover a deeply thoughtful experience that stands with cinema’s greatest artist portraits.
Beyond showcasing Kiefer’s technical brilliance across painting, sculpture and large-scale installation, Wenders explores the philosophical imperatives driving his confrontation with German history. This makes Anselm equally rewarding as a visceral emotional passage and an intellectual cinematic essay.
Casual moviegoers may bristle at the film’s slower pace and meditative tone. But patient viewing offers profound rewards in return through Kiefer’s timeless engagement with humanity’s light and darkness. Wenders thrusts us into the maestro’s creative furnace to distill this spiritual inquiry into unforgettable iconography.
Sure to ignite aesthetic debate for years, Anselm makes clear why Kiefer is lionized by some yet branded a provocateur by others. Regardless of viewers’ takes, all will leave touched by encountering his monumental creations with new eyes. Wenders makes Kiefer’s lifelong artistic battle feel like one for Germany’s very soul.
Epic in visual and philosophical scope, Anselm offers a uniquely immersive plunge into Anselm Kiefer's monumental multimedia works. Legendary director Wim Wenders brings consummate artistry and technical mastery to elucidating Kiefer's artistic aims in confronting Germany's past demons. Smart audiences will discover a film rich for discussion and repeated revisiting as its motifs echo across the ages. Prepare to be overwhelmed by its scale and haunted by its fearful symmetry.
- Breathtaking and immersive cinematography utilizing 3D and expansive shooting
- Gives an intimate look at Kiefer's facilities and artwork in progress
- Skillfully juxtaposes documentary and dramatized elements
- Thematically rich with philosophical depth
- Powerful reckoning with difficult historical issues
- Slow, meditative pacing could test some viewers
- Lack of standard biographical arc or talking-head interviews
- Omission of logistical details around how Kiefer funds his work