‘Anselm’ Review: Wim Wenders’s Portrait of an Artist in 3-D

‘You can’t just paint a landscape when tanks have driven through it,” says the subject of “Anselm,” a documentary by director Wim Wenders on the artist Anselm Kiefer. Born in Germany in 1945, Mr. Kiefer has never forgotten his origins in the smoldering ruins of the Nazi empire, though many have evidently wished he would. The film, an oblique portrait of this deeply serious provocateur, is no pass-the-time bit of art-historical programming, and no talking heads appear to hasten us along to a pat conclusion. Instead, “Anselm” proceeds with a deliberate slowness as it loosely traces the contours of one man’s creativity in the long shadow of historic evil. It is also, incidentally, in 3-D.

Mr. Wenders, the filmmaker behind such arthouse classics as “Kings of the Road” and “Paris, Texas,” previously worked in this format on “Pina,” his 2011 documentary about dancer and choreographer Pina Bausch. One can understand why he returned to it, as Mr. Kiefer’s works—from his hulking sculptures to his thickly textured canvases—certainly don’t keep to a single plane. This is not the kind of 3-D that sees things leaping off the screen, though a few wandering wisps of smoke appear to escape the frame; it instead lends these images a sometimes uncanny, sometimes mesmerizing sense of depth. While it doesn’t feel integral to the project, it does, now and then, enrich it.

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