A great filmmaker joins a great artist


Coming to the M.V. Film Center this weekend is Wim Wenders’ 2023 documentary, “Anselm.” This is not a documentary in any ordinary sense, but Wenders’s use of his 

considerable talent in exploration of the art and genius of German artist Anselm Kiefer. This film doesn’t use biographical information or conduct interviews, but it investigates the work itself. The skill of the filmmaker joins forces with an immensely talented artist to make a challenging and powerful film. Wenders has won awards at the Cannes, Venice, and Berlin Film Festivals. In addition to “Anselm,” Wenders also made “Perfect Days” in 2023, about a Tokyo restroom cleaner; it’ll be shown at the Film Center later in February. Both Wenders and Kiefer were born in Germany in 1945, grew up in postwar Germany, and have become longtime friends.

One of the most celebrated artists of the late 20th century, Kiefer addresses Nazi hegemony in his painting and sculpture, and criticizes it as a part of Germany’s postwar devastation. Wenders shows Kiefer bicycling through his vast studio, where his large-scale works are stored. The filmmaker displays the white gowns of women with a stack of books, or a cluster of twigs instead of heads, that characterize Kiefer’s work. On display outside his studio, La Ribaute, near Barjac in France, is a series of crooked stanchions on a 20-plus-acre site. Another outdoor sculpture series, consisting of white-gowned figures, again without heads, is called “Les Femmes Martyres,” on display at Chateau La Coste, a commune in southern France. While living in Paris since 2008, Kiefer is considered one of the richest German men. 

Focusing on the work itself, Wenders pans images of Kiefer’s abstract paintings, conveying “the ash heap of Germany” in the post-–World War II era. His paintings use sand, straw, clay, ash, lead, and shellac to create rich, textured surfaces. Wenders shows Kiefer setting fire with a blowtorch to a wall of his works. An assistant follows with a hose to salvage the work. In ”Anselm,” Wenders and Kiefer share in the exploration of the aftermath of the 20th century in their individual art forms. For Wenders, Hollywood’s blockbuster films are the most to blame, because they suggest that things are fine the way they are. In the case of Kiefer, his art looks at the German people’s memory, their willful rejection of Germany’s wartime history, and their blame for what happened in that past. What makes this such a brilliant and stunning film is the way these two longtime friends address the same issues. While the film was made in 3D, it will be shown at the Film Center in 2D.

Information and tickets for “Anselm” are available at mvfilmsociety.com.