Sophie Fiennes' engrossing documentary about German born artist Anselm Kiefer not only illuminates his vision but also engages with his artistic process; in fact, Fiennes literally plunges us into this formidable artist's work. Fiennes' technique is extraordinary in its simplicity, balancing a literal prowl throughout his immense sculptural environs with a respectful observational distance. It is this balance that will absolutely delight fans of this multidimensional artist's style, however, more middle-of-the-road audiences may find themselves frustrated. For anyone willing, however, prepare to have your sensibilities overwhelmed.
Feinnes doesn't just present a profile, she makes us work. Right from the start, Fiennes thrusts us into the heart of one of Kiefer's monumental works. Kiefer has adopted a long abandoned factory in the South of France as both studio and creation. He works with the decrepit structure, shifting and rearranging its corroded cast-off materials to create an absurd steel artefact in the wilderness, one that taunts the all powerful natural forces surrounding it to swallow it whole. The opening sequence is extraordinary as Fiennes' camera moves into and through every nook and cranny of this phenomenon in action, her camera crawling through labyrinthine corridors, over and around the encroaching greenery.
Anselm Kiefer is not the easiest subject or personality to deal with but Sophie Fiennes meets him head-to-head. This is a clash of titans, complete with visceral charge. His work is as difficult as it is invigorating and with Fiennes leading us, the challenge is all the more satisfying. Not content with clever conceptual conceits, Kiefer invokes grand, gut-wrenching themes, torn right from the history of 20th century Germany, his country and era of origin.
Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow is as much a response to Kiefer's art works as it is a creative act unto itself: her exploration matches his production in effort. Fiennes revels in the textures as much as Kiefer does in the act of creation. Using the rough walls and the smooth stairs, for example, she makes an effortless moving collage, switching from one surface to the other. When she shows the man at work, she reveals the mechanics of his practice. It's like a construction site, complete with helpers, man-made metals, glass and concrete, with cranes lifting and dropping metallic pieces to create precarious layers that eventually falter and collapse. Even in the more painterly pieces, he uses corrosive materials and metals in various states of deterioration. The twisted metals are an indulgence that eventually corrode and are swallowed by the earth. Some evidence will remain but the structure's overarching power will be lost. As it should be.
Distributor: Alive Mind
Director: Sophie Fiennes
Producers: Sophie Fiennes, Kees Kasander, Émilie Blézat
Running Time: 105 min.
Release Date: August 10 NY