Careful, Artist at Work: Anselm Kiefer and his Blowtorch in Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow


“We’ll start with this” are, fittingly, the first words spoken by German painter and sculptor Anselm Kiefer, nearly 30 minutes into Sophie Fiennes’s immersive look at his artistic process. Except for an opening intertitle noting that Kiefer set up his studio in 1993 in an abandoned silk factory in the southern French town of Barjac, where the documentary was shot, and an interview with a German journalist, in which the artist exalts boredom, there is no explication in Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow (a marked contrast with Fiennes’s previous doc, The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, a logorrheic lecture by Slavoj Zizek). In equal parts mesmerizing and disorienting, Over Your Cities (the title comes from the biblical story of Lilith) plunges viewers into the earth, wind, and fire of Kiefer’s massive-scale projects: bulldozed terrain, dust and ash being tossed onto canvases, a blowtorch used to solder and liquefy metals. The artist himself—owlish, lean, riding into the studio dressed in linen pants and a flat cap on a pink bicycle—appears to be a model of equilibrium. Though he’s occasionally tetchy with his six assistants, the amiable Kiefer expresses frustration with a work’s progress as quiet heartbreak: “It’s not the sculpture that it wants to be.”