GERHARD RICHTER PAINTING (Corinna Belz). 97 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (March 30) at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. See Times. Rating: NNN
According to the journalists interviewing the painter Gerhard Richter at a press conference early in Gerhard Richter Painting, the artist is most fascinating because of his willingness to change styles, radically reinventing himself on a whim. Corinna Belz's film similarly switches things up every 20 minutes or so, shifting from a conventional portrait-of-the-artist documentary to something more experimental and far more intriguing.
The doc oscillates between the usual elements - that press conference, testimonials from colleagues and journalists, a few moments when Richter discusses his influences - and long, luxurious takes where Belz just observes him in his studio as he works on a painting.
That's when the project truly comes to life for me, when it puts aside any concerns of structure or pacing and just settles in to watch the man paint. There's nothing wrong with the other stuff; it's just not as interesting as observing the artist in his element, making aesthetic decisions with the mere placement of a brush or the intensity of a stroke.
The footage of Richter at work, though, is so enthralling that I came away wishing Belz had devoted her whole movie to it. She wouldn't even have had to change the title.