Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow
Directed by Sophie Fiennes
Alive Mind/Kino Lorber DVD
A camera dollies down bleak, rough-cut corridors punctuated by shafts of light from some upper world as eerie sonorities flood the soundtrack. Slabs of broken stone lie in tumble-down piles as muted screams ebb and surge. The effect is utterly alien. But the endless tracking shots reveal the occasional bare light bulb or twisted end of rebar, and a few may recognize the foreboding music as Ligeti, whose compositions once lent unearthly, elemental patina to another man-made construction-Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey.
This strange, expansive world came into being through the vision of German artist Anselm Kiefer, who spent more than 15 years transforming an abandoned factory complex in Barjac, in the south of France, into not just a workshop and showcase for his art, but multi-acre art itself. Director Sophie Fiennes paid him, and it, a visit for her 2010 documentary, Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow.
After opening with 20 minutes of wordless, depopulated travel around and through Kiefer's complex, Fiennes does put things into more human scale. She films Kiefer and his cadre of assistants working, a practice that ranges from studio intimate (Kiefer and his helpers working on one of his outsized, muted canvases-at one point covering it in a thick layer of ash) to construction-site broad (an assistant digging raw dirt out of a subterranean space with power equipment). She sits in on an interview with a visiting journalist that reveals little about Kiefer or his work, and that is perhaps the biggest enigma/drawback regarding Over Your Cities. Unpacking Kiefer's evolution from a painter with a distinctive vision to a creator of sculptural forms and, ultimately, the kind of immersive proto-ruins that constitute the site at Barjac would likely prove fascinating. Only late in the going do a few snatches of voice-over address his thoughts on his work of more than a decade, giving the film its title.
If Fiennes does a poor job of providing context for Kiefer's project, her visual exploration proves mesmerizing nonetheless. While the artist uses many recognizably human tokens-giant books with pages of sheet lead, rough concrete-slab houses, NASA star maps-the overall effect of the Barjac site evokes the awe and terror of a planet that existed for millennia without us and will continue to revolve for millennia once there's no one left to ponder our feeble monuments.