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An unshowy but important art doc that will be a must-see for followers of contemporary painting, Corinna Belz’s Gerhard Richter Painting opens a window on artworks whose creation proves even more time- and thought-intensive than expected. Arthouse turnout should be solid in urban centers where Richter’s name holds hip cachet belying the length of his five-decade-plus career.
Set mostly in clean white studios whose size and details are no more romantic than corporate offices, the film spends months to capture a process more tumultuous than a one-day visit would suggest: We open on a gray abstract composition that Richter’s assistant believes is finished, for instance, only to see Richter obliterate it with white months later in hopes of coaxing something new from its depths.
Soft-spoken but not unwilling to discuss his methods, Richter says his abstractions begin with “no concept” but instead are a series of attempts to correct whatever went wrong in the previous step. Complaining that it can be a while before he realizes there’s something to fix, he says, “it’s so much fun, and they look good for two hours — sometimes a day,” but then reveal themselves to be flawed.
We see bits of the artist’s public and business life, like gallery openings and planning sessions with museum curators; late in the film, we get a (not quite satisfying) sliver of biographical reflection prompted by a London retrospective of the painter’s portraiture. But the most rewarding footage here is of Richter by himself, filling empty canvas with bold schemes of primary colors before carefully distressing them with massive squeegees and muddying the colors with fat brushes.
These scenes of technique are delicious to experience, even for viewers who haven’t stood before his finished works and puzzled over the methods of their creation. Fascinating in a different way is a montage, covering three months, in which a painting morphs repeatedly in directions an outsider could never predict. Actually, as it turns out, an insider couldn’t predict it either.
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival
Production Companies: zero one film/Terz Film/WDR/MDR
Director-screenwriter: Corinna Belz
Producer: Thomas Kufus
Directors of photography: Johann Feindt, Frank Kranstedt, Dieter Stürmer
Editor: Stephan Krumbiegel
Sales: The Match Factory
No rating, 101 minutes
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