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CANNES 2023 Special Screenings

Review: Anselm

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- CANNES 2023: Wim Wenders’ beautiful 3D-shot documentary on iconic German artist Anselm Kiefer helps his work to soar

Review: Anselm

Wim Wenders is clearly getting up on the right side of the bed when devising his documentary projects these days. He was always the great “mixtape” filmmaker – where his work felt as much curated and studded with his favourite things, as conventionally written – and this has allowed him to flourish in non-fiction, where portraits of genius figures often play like filmed Wikipedia. His range of subjects is vast, but not self-consciously so: there’s a certain logic in him pivoting from the earthy, folk-derived musicianship of Buena Vista Social Club towards the austere art-world personality of Anselm Kiefer.

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Anselm [+see also:
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, premiering in Cannes’ Special Screenings section, is shot natively in 3D, rather than post-converted after the fact, like many new and restored features were as its early 2010s craze set in. There’s an aura to Anselm of the gallery exhibition “experiences” that have started to make inroads into conventional arthouse cinemas, but 3D makes for a better, and more technically elaborate, way to immerse us in the contours of the work – it is always used artfully, with a soft but firm touch, by cinematographer Franz Lustig. Kiefer himself, a rare contemporary-art legend whose practice doesn’t incorporate the moving image, might be inclined to use it in a more oppressive manner.

So then, about Anselm. Wenders is a close friend of his, and Wim’s veneration of him is likely beyond doubt. But this documentary creates the uncanny and rewarding experience – certainly for this reviewer – of finding Kiefer’s work compelling and intellectually stimulating, but ultimately not instilling great admiration. The work is inspired by poetry, philosophy, German Romanticism and ancient German myths (more on that later), but the traces of these sources are flattened by its sheer grandeur, and sometimes bombast. It’s monumental in dimension, yet paradoxically wreathed in decay: the epic canvasses are torqued, burnt and distressed with material from natural sources like flora and dirt; the sculptures are fashioned from industrial materials, and on the plain of his atelier site in Barjac, near Nîmes in the South of France, they look like a walking parade of giants’ legs, with the rest of their bodies enveloped by the clouds.

Wenders takes us through the key points of his career in an achronological, yet succinct, structure. Born in 1945, he put Germany’s dark history through a distorting gauze, although early observers saw mere depiction as overlapping with endorsement. With one early canonical work incorporating the Siegfried and Parsifal myths in a woodcut, the international commentariat – still cautious of celebrating anything so “innately” German in the decades following the war – made allegations of Nazism. To reductively boil down his work, perhaps it’s just about “remembering”: a self-portrait photo series in 1969 depicted him performing the Sieg Heil, proving a confrontational rebuke to West Germany’s unilateral ban of it.

The visuals are prioritised: Kiefer is seen in archival interviews and in present-day footage working on current pieces, where he discreetly passes instructions to assistants, contributing to his canvasses’ creation by destruction – he wields a blowtorch, rather than a paintbrush. The director’s grand-nephew Anton Wenders and Kiefer’s own son Daniel Kiefer incarnate the subject as a boy and in his twenties through well-marshalled, often silent dramatisations – a microcosm of the film’s merging of sensibilities, amounting to another fitting stop in the grand road-movie travelogue of Wenders’ career.

Anselm is a production by Germany’s Road Movies. Its world sales are overseen by HanWay Films.

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Photogallery 17/05/2023: Cannes 2023 - Anselm

9 pictures available. Swipe left or right to see them all.

Wim Wenders, Anton Wenders, Donata Wenders, Anselm Kiefer, Manuela Luca-Dazio, Daniel Kiefer
© 2023 Fabrizio de Gennaro for Cineuropa - fadege.it, @fadege.it

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