Thursday, July 18, 2024

Movie Review: ‘Anselm’ Gives New Life to 3D

Director: Wim Wenders
Stars: Anselm Kiefer, Daniel Kiefer, Anton Wenders

Synopsis: Anselm Kiefer is one of the greatest contemporary artists. His past and present diffuse the line between film and painting, thus giving a unique cinematic experience that dives deep into an artist’s work and reveals his life path.

Few directors continue to push the boundaries of stereoscopic filmmaking, with James Cameron at the top of the list. He’s but one of two filmmakers who released a film this decade that was natively shot in 3D with Avatar: The Way of Water in 2022. The second is Wim Wenders, whose documentary Anselm was shot in 3D at 6K resolution. Retracing the life of German contemporary artist Anselm Kiefer, Wenders blends documentary-styled techniques with a semi-fictional narrative, letting audiences peer through his mind – literally and figuratively – through the artifice of three-dimensional filmmaking. 

This isn’t the first time Wenders experimented in 3D, with the 2011 documentary Pina receiving some of the biggest acclaim of his career with its groundbreaking use of the format. He also attempted to shoot fiction films in the format through his 2015 drama Every Thing Will Be Fine, which starred James Franco, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Rachel McAdams, and 2016’s The Beautiful Days of Aranjuez, but the end result wasn’t as staggering as his first foray into a new dimension. 

With Anselm, Wenders breathes new life into his approach to 3D, shooting most of the film in a boxed-in 1.33:1 ratio until it slightly expands as audiences begin to know more about his life and the massive art studios he built throughout his career. Like most of Wenders’ oeuvre, time has a massive role in shaping Anselm’s life and work. The German subtitle for the film, Das Rauschen der Zeit, means The Sound of Time, with Wenders directing most of our attention through the images and sounds he puts in motion, with the 3D acting as a window for us to enter Anselm’s studio, with him as he continues to make art at the age of 78 and making sense of the time he currently has. 

Wenders smartly alternates between present-day footage of Anselm in his Paris studio coming up with a massively elaborate project that sees him literally torch a painting with a flamethrower (of course, the fire and stick pop out of the screen – it’s mandatory when you do native 3D), and his past life as a young child and prospective artist, who began his career being known for his provocative pieces. His first exhibit was titled “Besetzungen (Occupations),” which was a collection of photographs of Anselm performing the Nazi salute in front of major European landmarks, encouraging Germans to remember – and acknowledge – their past. 

He was quickly labeled a neo-fascist by the ones who were looking at his photographs at face value, already positing him as a figure who would now have to overcome severe roadblocks by the art community to expose his work in Germany – and abroad. And as much as Wenders talks about this through the smart use of archival footage shown through a vintage television or projected on a sheet (to play with the artifice of 3D), he doesn’t go as deep enough as he should to make the audience understand of the impact he had within the art community, even when he decides to show Anselm in younger years, portrayed here by Daniel Kiefer (Anselm’s son) as a young adult, and Anton Wenders (Wim’s grand-nephew) as a child. 

Those parts contain some of the most evocative imageries of the entire film, with the 3D used as a device to examine Anselm’s past, but it doesn’t go as far enough in its concept as it should, leaving the semi-fictional narrative too scattershot for it to impact the audience. The images are never boring, but the weight behind them is often muddled when one attempts to look beyond them, even with hefty glasses on our eyes. 

But where Anselm fails at drawing a deeper portrait of one of Germany’s most influential cultural figures, it still more than succeeds in giving audiences a behind-the-scenes look at his artistic process: how he operates within his studio and the effort it takes for him to come up with something as original and as representative of the time he is currently living in and has lived through as his art evolved with his perception of the world. Those moments are shot with incredible precision through the illusion of three-dimensionality, with expert use of depth in moments where Anselm guides audiences through its studio until Wenders has fun with the pop-out aspect of the format by purposefully directing Anselm (and large sticks) in front of the camera. 

The ending isn’t as impactful as one would’ve hoped, but the result Wenders gives is a pure visual and aural feast that needs to be experienced in its truest, three-dimensional form. The crappy “post-converted to RealD3D” format may be completely dead (and one of the worst-ever ways to watch anything), but Wenders’ use of 3D in Anselm has given new life to the format, just as James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water showed the world how 3D can – and should – be used. 

Grade: A-

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