Sophie Fiennes (“The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema”), one of the Fiennes brood (Ralph Fiennes, Martha Fiennes, Magnus Fiennes and Joseph Fiennes) and parents Mark Fiennes and novelist/painter Jini Fiennes, all of them artists and filmmakers, attaches herself to Anself Keifer in her comment-free documentary “Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow,”
Twenty minutes pass before Kiefer addresses the camera. Thirty minutes of cranes shots and reverent tracking shots as Fiennes and DP Remko Schnorr roves through the mysterious labyrinth of Anselm Kiefer’s studio in an old silk factory in the southern French town of Barjac. Winding corridors, looming earthen pillars, stairways leading to skylit domed galleries inscribed with kabbalistic symbols, Nasa co-ordinates and the names of radical French women. Keifer’s spooky shrines celebrate the feminine, Lilith, yet he works in a world of manly men, a crew that works with bulldozers and corrosive elements and eschews safety gear.
Like Joseph Beuys (with whom he studied) he’s intent on exorcising Germany’s War Crimes in his epic installations. Liquid metal, glass shards, industrial detritis are some of his pigments.
His landscape installations at La Ribaute are epic. They dwarf the vast steel “red rock” tunnels of Richard Serra, recall and compete with the six acres of monoliths (Opus 40) that Harvey Fite raised in Woodstock NY before dying in a construction accident. They are monumental like Anish Kappor’s sculptures but where Kappor’s work is both futuristic and optimistic; Keifer’s express the destruction of time, and man’s inhumanity.
It’s initiatory, Fiennes’ reverent search for Kiefer’s process. She uncovers little, but savors much. She’s an acolyte or high tone tourist, not the forensic filmmaker were might have liked.
His studio, which deals in a kind of deconstruction of material (his sculptures are meant to weather and decompose in the elements), is like an industrial burial ground filled with shards, concrete forms that imply sculpture, like a stage set of a future archeological dig. His work quotes the disaster trail of the twentieth century, twisted 911-ish rebar, shower heads that summon the gas chambers. The studio is surrounded with his spectral installations. Huge rock houses, decorated with stones libraries, suggest a history of disasters reaching back to Pompeii.
In the second half we watch the work-fierce industrial process. To build his dilapidated ruins, he must gouge, and dig tunnels and smelt and smash and even burn books, and as he does he and his team seem to become the materials. Perhaps Fienens framed them as performance art.
In the middle of the dialogue free film, Keifer faces a journalist who asks some uninspiring questions, As his children play behind him, he ponders. “It is only when one is bored that one’s consciousness settles, reluctantly or even fearfully, on oneself and the nature of one’s own existence.” He talks about the ocean we carry inside as, a memory in our cells that long to return to the ocean. He muses on his childhood, the Bible, the 17th century Cosmologist Robert Fludd and the universe.
Modernist music by György Ligeti and Jörg Widmann and refined widescreen compositions respond to and frame Keifer’s consummate imaginary ruins.