Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow: Film Review

For admirers of the artist and the open-minded, the movie actually presents the ideal way of appreciating Kiefer's extraordinary work.

Sophie Fiennes' documentary "Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow" is a trying 105 minutes of Fiennes recording German artist Anselm Kiefer making his elemental painting-installations in slow pans, long tracking or still shots, with no narrative.

CANNES -- During an interview in Sophie Fiennes' documentary on German artist Anselm Kiefer, Kiefer pontificates on Heidegger and asserts that "boredom is the basis of existence." Viewers who don't care for contemporary art and know nothing about philosophy will be plunged into this said "basis of existence" for most of its trying 105 minutes as Fiennes records Kiefer making his elemental painting installations in the most straightforward of slow pans, long tracking or still shots, with no narration.

Not that this matters as this little film of austere beauty is aimed at a small elite of art connoisseurs and cineastes. Thus, it will hang like a prized painting in experimental festivals and audio-visual-related educational channels or campus or museum shows. For admirers of the artist and the open-minded, Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow actually presents the ideal way of appreciating Kiefer's extraordinary work, which is inseparable from the far-flung, cavernous or primeval venues in which they are exhibited, and the Herculean manual labor he puts into the preparations, which become organic to his creative process.

Fiennes follows Kiefer to Barjac, a derelict backwater in France, where he constructs massive, coarse-looking architecture to house the work he is about to create. She focuses on about half a dozen works and shows the eye-opening processes in which he works wonders with concrete, cement, gravel, stone, metal and other coarse materials.

The most visually exciting for art lovers is the creation of "The Ardeche," during which he sprinkles gray powder (possibly ground from concrete) over a black and white painting of the forest before hoisting the giant painting up so the powder cascades like a rain of sand. Another sculpture display sees him bring in pane after pane of glass and smash them to smithereens as carpeting for the floor. The film concludes hauntingly with the piece de resistance -- an imposing open air installation of towers piled from concrete slabs, inspired by the Biblical story of Lilith living among the ruins, and whose words became the film's title. The images from T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland come to mind.

Other parts are harder to stay attentive for, such as disjointed shots of bulldozers raking the earth in murky tunnels or cranes dancing around half-built studios alternating with enigmatic actions that may or may not be part of the art. Or Kiefer soldering the walls of an underground labyrinth, ritualistically setting a book on fire or plates being smashed in a storeroom neatly lined with shelved drawers. The discordant but striking Gyorgy Ligeti compositions perfectly complements the edgy style of Kiefer's work.

Except for the aforementioned interview in which he expounds academically about ideas and philosophies that inform his work, little background is given about the artist. One is expected to either know it all, or not give a toss.

Venue: Festival de Cannes -- Special Screenings
Production companies: Amoeba Film, Kasander, Sciapode production
Director-producer: Sophie Fiennes
Producers: Kees Kasander, Emilie Blezat
Director of photography: Remko Schnorr
Editor: Ethel Shepherd
Sales: Sciapode
No rating, 105 minutes