Anselm illustration by Billups Allen

Anselm (2023), Directed by Wim Wenders' Anselm (2023) review by Billups Allen

May 09, 2024

Filmmakers and camera enthusiasts have attempted to break the 3D code since the beginning of commercial filmmaking. The “Golden Age” of 3D found studios jockeying to include this new action into their horror and sci-fi films. Anselm isn’t German director Wim Wenders’s first foray into using 3D to enhance a documentary. His 2011 documentary Pina about dance choreographer Pina Bausch received praise for inserting the audience onto the stage of Bausch’s dance numbers. Some reviews haven’t been as kind when it comes to Anselm. I did not see this film in 3D, so I cannot comment on the 3D effect the film casts, but not being familiar with visual artist Anselm Keifer’s work, even without the 3D, it’s easy to see why Wim Wenders’s unique visual style enhances the story of the subject matter. 

Like many of his previous films, Wenders has created a quiet narrative in Anslem, leaving sufficient room for rumination by the audience. The movie opens on Kiefer and some of his statues. Wenders circles the statues with the camera for a while, allowing the statues to speak softly into the wind with a nebulous soundtrack that includes whispering. For a while, the camera follows the artist, presenting him as a mad monk walking—and sometimes bicycling—aimlessly around his art installation compound La Ribaute. This two hundred acre compound where Kiefer works on paintings and alters the landscape of existing buildings and found items is a long-standing project the public can now visit and engage with. 

Wenders’s contemplative shooting style is perfect in these opening shots. He presents the scope and beauty of the work. He opens the film up eventually, filling the gaps of Kiefer’s story through archival footage, re-enactments, and current footage of the processes Kiefer and his assistants engage to produce his larger works. Kiefer and his assistants are shown creating a lot of satisfying destruction: pouring molten metals on some canvases and using flame throwers on others. Many have to be lifted with cranes. Keifer’s modern-day antics are occasionally interrupted with archival interviews, often presented on the medium of the day, including old television sets and screens. There are also re-enactments of Kiefer’s childhood, the youngest version portrayed by Wenders’s grand nephew Anton Wenders. Both of these styles allow the audience to ruminate on the artist’s journey. It’s a thoughtful film examining Kiefer’s style and tells the story of his journey. –Billups Allen

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