> Anselm Directed by Wim Wenders

Directed by Wim Wenders

Written by Kuriko Sato|2024.6.21

© 2023, Road Movies, All rights reserved.


Interview with Wim Wenders, director of “Anselm”


“Anselm,” a new film by Wim Wenders—the director whose “Perfect Days,” starring Koji Yakusho, was nominated for the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film—is being released in Japan. The 3D documentary chronicles the work of Anselm Kiefer, a giant of contemporary art who burst onto the scene in postwar Germany.

Kiefer has been the subject of documentaries in the past, including short films made for television, but “Anselm” is the first feature-length theatrical documentary made about the artist. Wenders, an old friend of Kiefer’s, had been mulling the idea for many years, and his vision has now come to fruition in 3D, a format the director has worked in several times before. Appropriately for Kiefer, whose paintings, sculptures, and huge architectural objects are best described as monumental, the film immerses the viewer in the artist’s three-dimensional space. This is no mere gimmick, but an approach that lends the work a scale and depth commensurate with its subject, elevating it into a masterpiece. RealTokyo spoke to Wenders about the origins of this landmark of a film.


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“I first saw Kiefer’s work in the ’80s,” Wenders recalls. “I remember attending several of his exhibitions back then. Then, in 1991, I had the chance to meet him for the first time. I was in Berlin and had just finished shooting ‘Until the End of the World’ (1991). Anselm had achieved great success in the United States and was preparing for his first solo exhibition after returning to Germany. I happened upon him at a restaurant I frequented in my neighborhood, and since we both knew each other by appearance, we started talking. We hit it off and started seeing each other every day until the start of his exhibition. After a few days, he told me, ‘Actually, I wanted to be a film director.’ I replied, ‘I didn’t know that,’ and he was like, ‘You wanted to be a painter, didn’t you? What if we made a movie together?’ I thought it was a great idea, and we started talking about it. But Anselm’s show was met with scathing criticism in Germany. The Germans hated him. After his success in the U.S., Anselm had confidence in his exhibition. He had expected people in his own country to welcome him with open arms, but the outcome was quite the opposite. That really hurt him. After a while, he got in touch and told me had decided to leave Germany. I think there were personal reasons, too, but I also feel like he couldn’t stand the narrow-mindedness of the people in his homeland.”

Kiefer eventually set up a vast studio in Barjac in the south of France, while Wenders moved to the United States, putting their joint project on hold. But the two artists remained in touch, and a turning point came in 2019.

“[Kiefer] invited me to Barjac,” says Wenders. “Parts of the place were still under construction, but I was just amazed at the scale of it. I had never seen anything like it. So I said, ‘Anselm, the time to make a film is now.’ He replied, ‘Thank you; I thought so too.’ I started preparing immediately.”


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However, Wenders felt extraordinary pressure to get the project right.

“The pressure is greater when you’re dealing with a friend,” he says. “You don’t want to let them down. It was the same with the documentary I made about Pina Bausch (the 3D film ‘Pina,’ 2011). In that case, Pina passed away during production, and I had to give up on the project temporarily. Anyway, I asked Kiefer, ‘What kind of film do you want? Do you need a synopsis? Do you want to be there during the editing?’ He was like, ‘No, I don’t want to know anything. I only want one thing: for you to surprise me.’ I was relieved to hear that. He gave me a lot of freedom.”


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Thus Wenders, a celebrated auteur with the backing of a master artist, came up with a daring plan. Instead of producing a pure, chronological documentary about Kiefer, he chose to mix in fictional parts (Wenders’s grand-nephew plays Anselm as a child, while Kiefer’s own son portrays the protagonist in his youth), and included poetic and lyrical imagery that seems to allude to Kiefer’s spiritual journey.

Take, for example, the beginning of the film. Sculptures of white dresses inspired by mythical women of the ancient world stand in the hills of Barjac. A beautiful operatic theme plays in the background as the dresses are illuminated by the slowly rising morning sun, creating an indescribably hallowed moment. Next, as the camera pans and glides slowly around an indoor space, taking in the works exhibited in it, we hear the faint whispers of women. “We have no names, we have been forgotten. But we will not forget.”


© 2023, Road Movies, All rights reserved.


Wenders describes his take on the boundary between fiction and documentary as follows:

“When I create fiction, I try to make it look like a documentary, and when I make a documentary, I incorporate elements of fiction. At first, I had no idea how to shoot this film. But as I went along, I gradually began to see it. It’s the same as with painters. Many of them say they need a few months after sketching a picture to see what they’re going to paint. Just take your time. I think that’s especially important when doing a documentary. So I decided not to try and capture Anselm’s personality and story by having him tell it, but to let it be told through his work and the way he works.”


Relatedly, Wenders says he chose the 3D format because he considered it an effective tool for conveying the power of Kiefer’s work.

“3D technology has improved dramatically compared to when we made ‘Pina’,” he says. “This time we shot in 6K, which we couldn’t do back then, and we were even able to mount the equipment on a drone to capture landscape scenes. The level of immersion you get with 3D is completely different from that of 2D. Most of Anselm’s works are huge and offer the viewer a totality of perception. Compared to viewing his work in a catalog, seeing it in front of you is an entirely different experience. I wanted to give the viewer the feeling of actually seeing these pieces, and [Kiefer] working on them, up close.”


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The film also highlights its subject’s solitary struggles. Works such as “Occupations” (1969), a series of photographs in which Kiefer imitates the Nazi salute, and “Operation Sea Lion” (1975) caused a great deal of controversy in Germany, where the artist was labeled a “grave digger,” someone who excavates a cursed past. When Kiefer was selected to represent West Germany at the 1980 Venice Biennale, some in Germany criticized the choice, asking why the country was “sending a Nazi to Venice.” Wenders, being the same age as Kiefer, witnessed these controversies firsthand.

“Anselm and I were both born in 1945, him before the war ended and me just after,” Wenders says. “I remember how all my teachers at school were former Nazis. But while everyone stopped discussing the Nazis soon after the war, Anselm kept talking. He’s a fighter. Looking back and bringing history to light is usually considered something praiseworthy, but in Germany the opposite became true. He’s a poet and a philosopher, as well as a painter, sculptor, and scientist. His work is inspired not only by German history, but also by subjects like mythology, religion, astronomy, and physics. There’s no other artist like him.”


In the film, Kiefer mutters, “People avoid what’s heavy and seek out what’s light. They hate peeking into the abyss; they prefer the easy way out,” and, “I’ve thrust a mirror in front of everyone’s face.”

Anselm Kiefer takes strolls through nature, meditates in silence, and, at times accompanied by assistants, quietly proceeds to create epic works of art. Wherever he goes, Wenders’s camera captures his resolute figure.


Translated by Ilmari Saarinen



Directed by: Wim Wenders
Stars: Anselm Kiefer, Daniel Kiefer, Anton Wenders


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佐藤久理子 Kuriko Sato

Formerly an editor, currently lives and works as a freelance journalist in Paris. Mainly writes about movies, but also about music and a broad range of other cultural topics. Has her own regular columns on the eiga.com website and in the cultural magazine Fu-ra-n-su (France) published by Hakusuisha. Publications include Paris & CinemaEiga de aruku Parisby Space Shower Books.