(Das Magazin) Review: "The painter" by Oliver Hirschbiegel
Big screen cinema
A whole film about how a work of art is created? If Ben Becker plays along, it almost becomes a blockbuster.
Hans Ulrich Obrist (The Magazine)
The world premiere of a 94-minute film about how a work of art is made recently ran in Seville. The focus is on the painter Albert Oehlen, played by Ben Becker, who stands in front of a blank canvas in his studio in Bühler AR and has the immense task of turning it into a picture.
What follows is both a film made in close collaboration with the artist about the work process of Oehlen, who is one of the world's best-known contemporary painters, and a satire about being an artist and the art business, and ultimately it is also a thriller. Because at any point in time you absolutely want to know how - and whether - the painting will continue.
The direction was directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, a German filmmaker who most people will be familiar with because of his film “Der Untergang” with Bruno Ganz and who has been friends with Oehlen for years. In the 1980s, Oehlen belonged to a generation of New Figuration, a group of young painters in Berlin whose trademark was expressive and explicit painting.
Eventually Oehlen moved with Martin Kippenberger, the legendary artist who died early, to the vicinity of Seville, the city in which the Oehlen film had its premiere. In Seville, Oehlen turned himself into a painter of abstraction, even if he never completely abandoned the representational because of that. You can see that in the film too, when he gives pictorial names to the painterly gestures on the screen and Becker, alias Oehlen, says he's now painting a bean down here, then another, and adding a “cheek” at the top.
Oehlen's pictures arise entirely in the head. The most important piece of furniture in his modern studio in Bühler, where I have visited Oehlen many times, is therefore a white sofa next to the easel, on which he sits, reads and thinks, while the composition and colors of a new picture form inside him.
And so the painting that the actor Ben Becker creates during the filming - "very easy with the brush, always sooooo easy," says Becker / Oehlen - is based on meticulous instructions and a template by Oehlen, which Becker used as a guide. After the film was over, Oehlen destroyed the original and declared the Becker picture as a real Oehlen. The best movie I've seen in a long time.
"The painter" by Oliver Hirschbiegel, with Ben Becker as Albert Oehlen and Charlotte Rampling in the voiceover. Unfortunately, the theatrical release is not yet known.
Hans Ulrich Obrist is the Artistic Director of the Serpentine Galleries in London