Three To See Now:
Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow (Film Forum, August 10)
Although Anselm Kiefer was born in Germany two months before his Fatherland surrendered to the Allies, he is the foremost bard of its modern history, the unrivaled hammer of its darkness. If anyone can be said to be immersed in the depths of the Holocaust that preceded his arrival, Kiefer has to be first in line. With all that has been written, recorded, filmed or painted about those decades, encounters with what Kiefer has made of them is like the the firebombing of Dresden; you are never the same afterwards.
If this strikes you as hyperbole, spend 105 minutes in his company as he works alone, or with his crew, cranes, earth movers, torches, and every material within reach to create a massive installation in La Ribaute, a derelict silk factory in France. Sophie Fiennes’ new film reveals not only the overwhelming power of the artist’s work, but his oddly mild-mannered persona as he interacts with assistants, friends, and interviewers. The film is notable not just for what it reveals of Kiefer’s art, but for the way in which it lays his creative process bare, the physical effort of constructing the vast site, the long silences, the noise of machinery making history. It’s about scale―actual, emotional, intellectual, and the struggle to achieve a landscape of biblical resonance.
Whether you have seen the huge paintings and sculptures that Kiefer exhibits in outsize galleries, or have been able to travel to France to see La Ribaute itself, this film is a must for anyone who has grown weary of artspeak and auction fever, and who is prepared to receive what Kiefer delivers every time. At his last New York exhibition (Next Year in Jerusalem, at Gagosian) I was struck by a vitrine containing a small starched wedding dress, with shards of glass embedded in its fabric. Imbuing a symbol of joyful tradition with hard surfaces and shattered, dangerous edges is a thumbnail of what Kiefer can do on a much bigger canvas. You could say, at the very least, that it’s primal, locking a mythic past to a desolate future, and you would be right.
The Interrupters (IFC Center, now playing)
Among this film’s outstanding virtues is its proof that there is something to hope for in a world of mean streets and tough choices. The “violence interrupters” (Ameena Matthews, Cobe Williams, Eddie Bocanegra and their network of friends, families, and hard cases) have emerged from the worst that Chicago’s neighborhoods can throw at them, have made some tough personal choices, and have embraced saving the city’s most at-risk lives and futures while often risking their own.
Director Steve James (Hoop Dreams) and producer Alex Kotlowitz (There Are No Children Here) have spent one year in the life of a city grappling with violence to immerse us in unforgettable interlocking stories of real people who succeed, fail, try again and yes, keep us close, right up there in their daily balancing act, with them. The depth provided by being able to shoot so much coverage (the team won’t say just how much, and who can blame them?) and spend quality time on editing it pays off by making the viewer feel like part of the action rather than an onlooker―the same approach that made Hoop Dreams such a revelation. And the fact that the sound is pristine and HD images (grit and all) extraordinarily beautiful are unexpected, but welcome, bonuses. But in the end, it’s all about remarkable people who fear doing nothing to help far more than they fear taking big chances to do the right thing, one small gesture, one long day, at a time.
Sarah’s Key (at the Angelika)
A multi-generational best-selling novel, now a multi-generational film, Sarah’s Key may be dismissed as one more Holocaust story. But it takes place in France, somewhat under- represented in Holocaust film files and, like the recent City of Life and Death (which takes place in Nanking), the unfamiliar territory always has something to teach us.
While a dismissive note of “it’s so long ago, and we know all that” seeps into some contemporary responses, this film is absorbing from beginning to end―as human drama, as a still-shocking portrait of a nation turning on its own, and as an intricate plot with an unusually compelling cast. So, rather than being distracted by a few nay-sayers, just go to a theater to see how quickly you’re drawn into the emotional quicksand of long ago, and how strong the connection between little Sarah (a precocious Mélusine Mayance) and Kristen Scott-Thomas (grave and sympathetic) remains over four generations. Script and direction by Gilles Paquet-Brenner hit all the right notes.