Gerhard Richter Painting

Some art documentaries trot out talking heads to reassure us of the central importance of their subjects. Others simply confront us with the physical reality of the work, inasmuch as that’s possible. Corinna Belz’s process-oriented record of, yes, Gerhard Richter painting, sometimes pulls in close, sometimes stays back, as the calm, kindly, rigorous master digs into a series of abstracts in his Cologne studio.

Aside from showing Richter attending to daily business and archival glimpses of his feisty younger self, the documentary sticks with the now-80-year-old artist as he paints, pauses, contemplates, and offers humble-sounding koans, conscious of the camera, as if it embodies the tantalizing boundaries of control and influence for an artist and his material. Most exciting of all is the heavy scrape of the giant squeegee Richter draws across the canvas, magically transforming the paint below and thrilling the eye and ear with the near-tactile reality of contact and creation.

Serene and soft-spoken, Richter resembles an absent-minded uncle, though his powers of observation snap into focus when, for example, he declares a painting may last only a few hours and then appear worthless. Belz previously filmed Richter working on stained-glass windows for the Cologne cathedral, and the release of her new film comes not long after the Tate Modern’s massive Richter retrospective. At times filling the screen with symmetrical compositions of paintings in progress in the studio, the film is akin to being in a museum that’s come alive.

<p>© 2012 by The Film Society of Lincoln Center