Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow (NC)

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The Independent Culture

The tortured, lugubrious creations of the German artist Anselm Keifer (born 1945) are given a mesmerising showcase in Sophie Fiennes's documentary.

In the 1990s Keifer moved to Barjac, south-west France, and began transforming a derelict silk factory and its grounds into a gigantic series of installations. He and his team unearthed a subterranean complex of tunnels and abandoned chambers, while above them pavilions provided space for his gnarled, forbidding sculptures of wire, ash, concrete and molten lead. Faced with these junkyard apparitions of decay and deliquescence one may find certain implications unavoidable. Floors of shattered glass, extruded teeth, bonfires of books and those ghostly underground corridors cannot help but suggest the hellish afterimages of the Holocaust, a grappling with the Nazi ghost in which Keifer has form: in his twenties he had himself photographed parodically sieg-heiling outside the Colosseum and on the edge of the Mediterranean. Fiennes's camera watches this drama of construction in awe, but without comment; the score by Jörg Widmann and Gyorgy Ligeti keeps a steady line of mournful introspection. Some of his creations, like those of his mentor Joseph Beuys, work better than others. There's a certain rough beauty in liquid lead and broken porcelain, but I couldn't see the point of the tottering concrete towers Keifer places on the quiet pastoral scene outside – as if Europe's landscape lacks for gross industrial defacing. Abandoned pillboxes? A comment on Speer's grandiloquent architecture for the Thousand-Year Reich? Who knows – but I found myself hoping the artist would not leave the site uglier than he found it.