VIFF 2023: Anselm

Directed by: Wim Wenders
Distributed by: Janus Films

Written by Taylor Baker


Wim Wenders’s “Anselm” opens with landscape shots of statuesque dresses adorning the countryside with atomic structures, trees, and inanimate objects nestled into their neckline as symbolic heads. The film–screened best in theaters in 3D–is best described as both an art installation and a documentary. It details the septuagenarian artist Anselm Kiefer’s life and work, progressing through historic and contemporary footage of his old studios and pieces while also observing and occasionally making the camera–and thus the audience–a participant in Anselm’s newest creations. 

A potent counter-culturist, Anselm was born in Donaueschingen, Germany in 1945, and much of his work has centered around the cause of the post-war world he grew up in. Examining, critiquing, and engaging with parts of Nazi history that Germany found untoward and outlawed. The terror that tanks wreaked over unharvested fields, the loss of mythos, historical, and cultural icons to the Nazi propaganda machine, and the utter harshness of the death machine that was Nazi Germany take center stage in both Anselm’s life and his work.

The film occasionally cuts to the boyhood and mid-adulthood of Anselm, with Anton Wenders Wim’s grandson playing the artist as a pre-pubescent boy, and Anselm’s son Daniel Kiefer portraying him as a middle-aged man. This choice to extrapolate and–perhaps–embellish only accentuates and humanizes further the central figure of the documentary, allowing one a greater inkling of the man that uses a blow torch on his paintings and smelts metal onto his canvases. Though one won’t leave “Anselm” having been transformed, one doesn’t leave empty-handed. There is a subtle power to the poetry recited throughout the film and in watching a man in his late seventies ride a bike around a warehouse full of paintings he’s created.

“Anselm” Trailer

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on film on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

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