March 4, 2024

ANSELM (2023) directed by Wim Wenders  

Wim Wenders’s visually stunning and conceptually problematic film Anselm is perhaps not aimed toward an audience for whom Anselm Kiefer is a household name. Ostensibly a documentary about the formidable and influential German artist, the film is unapologetically engaged in the business of mythmaking. During the course of the film, Kiefer becomes a larger-than-life figure. He wields a flamethrower to create the scorched-earth look of his humongous relief paintings; then he appears pouring buckets of molten metal into molds to make his monumental sculptures, like a 21st-century Vulcan in his Olympian forge—albeit puffing on a cigar. Shot in 3-D by cinematographer Franz Lustig over the course of two years, in the artist’s cavernous studios in France and Germany, the film winds up at Kiefer’s solo exhibition at the Palazzo Ducale in Venice, coinciding with the 2022 Venice Biennale. Film audiences gain a clear understanding of the immense scale—not only of the work, but of this artist’s ambition.

Film still from Wim Wenders’s Anselm, 2023; Photo Courtesy Road Movies.

One also gets a sense of the German director’s outsize ambition in making this film. Nominated for an Oscar this year for Best International Feature Film for his Japanese language movie Perfect Days, Wenders, in Anselm, aims to make a cinematic work of art—a must-see on the big screen—that would match the grandeur of Kiefer’s best efforts. Sporadic interviews with the artist appear in the film, as well as voiceover readings of poems in German by Paul Celan, and words by German philosopher Martin Heidegger, set against an operatic soundscape of classical music and ambient noise. The film eventually imparts something of Kiefer’s life story and career, including the controversial aim of his work to provoke Germans of his generation to face the reality of World War II, the Holocaust, and grapple with post-war denial and angst.

Film still from Wim Wenders’s Anselm, 2023; Photo Courtesy Road Movies.

Wenders and Keifer (both 78) are friends in real life, but rather than a biopic, Anselm might best be regarded in terms of pure filmic fiction. In that sense, Wenders was simply inspired by Kiefer to create a unique cinematic environment, in much the same way that Vincent van Gogh inspired Julian Schnabel’s imaginative take on the Dutch artist’s last years in his 2018 film At Eternity’s Gate. Lushly atmospheric throughout, often aided by the 3-D effects, and dreamily entrancing overall, Anselm ultimately evokes the spirit of German Romanticism—Goethe’s philosophy, Caspar David Friedrich’s imagery, etc.—and all of its attendant idealism.

Film still from Wim Wenders’s Anselm, 2023; Photo Courtesy Road Movies.

Anselm (2023), directed by Wim Wenders, Road Movies, in English and German with subtitles, 93 minutes; currently playing in select theaters in NYC and throughout the country.



  • Bill Page says:

    I saw this film. David Ebony’s review places the reader right into this film-you are there. Through writing with cinematic language about the film, it reads like seeing the movie itself and being there on location. The film not edited exactly in a linear style, the film language can is often abstract as is its story. But this makes it a wonderful film form to be swept away by. To ground the viewer, David gives references to two other artisits’ films providing a good point of view to understanding the complexity of this film. Importantly, David gives the reader a real sense of place with the sense of time and historical overtones that provides the context the film is unfolding in throughout. If the reader doesn’t see this film, they will have the greater experience of it from having read David’s review. The review avails one to both the filmic language and underlying story which David holds both as interchangeable which they are.

    • David Ebony says:

      Bill Page, Thank you! Coming from such an accomplished filmmaker as yourself, these words are especially meaningful and greatly appreciated. All best, David

  • Ayala Leyser says:

    Not a personal peek to the Artist’s life, Kieffer is a medium, aggressively torching and throwing material at what becomes his powerful art, as a loud scream against silence. Although critical of human authoritarianism , specifically of his motherland, he doesn’t exclude himself, perhaps acknowledging the potential for aggression as well as for silent conformity, by enacting on his towering, dense metal and wood sheets of wall. Best movie I saw this year. At awe.

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