SXSW Film Review: Angel Applicant
Award-winning documentary finds two artists linked by one disease
By Josh Kupecki,
1:10PM, Fri. Mar. 17, 2023
Being diagnosed with an incurable, unpredictable disease tends to narrow one’s focus to a ceaseless litany of existential questions: What happens next? How long do I have? What comes after that?
For first-time filmmaker Ken August Meyer, these questions comprise the frame around his autobiographical documentary Angel Applicant, which this week took the SXSW grand jury documentary prize. In the autumn of 2000, a twentysomething Meyer was diagnosed with systemic scleroderma, a rare autoimmune disease caused by “unknown environmental factors.” The body attacks itself, specifically inflaming the connective tissue, which basically binds the entire structure together. That structure being the body. Here Meyer’s body. And once, the artist Paul Klee’s body.
A crucial influence on Modern Art, a famed instructor at Weimer’s Bauhaus art school, and a frequent visitor to the crossword puzzle, Klee and his wife fled Hitler’s Germany for Switzerland in 1933, and that same year, he began to develop symptoms of scleroderma, although it was only after his death in 1940 that they were able to diagnose it. Meyer finds in Klee a kindred spirit, and becomes obsessed with the artist.
Angel Applicant then lays out these two lives. One, a renowned artist in exile, his body failing him, yet working nonstop to produce the most prolific output of his career. The other, finding solace and recognition in that work a near century later. Meyer finds in Klee’s work not just the mirror of his own body betraying him, but is at times convinced he is receiving direct messages: “constellations from an empathetic ghost.”
Meyer is the first to admit his embarrassment, and this intimacy with which he lays bare his life and the effects of this horrific disease to the camera is overwhelmingly affecting. He has found a lifeline to latch on to, and this journey that he takes with Klee’s life and work, that we then take with Meyer’s life illustrates in so many ways the power of art, the power of connection, and an illustration of the willingness to be able to consider those existential questions, living like a Greek chorus in the mind, with a bit less fear and a bit more peace.
Documentary Competition, World PremiereMar 18, 6:30pm, Alamo South Lamar
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SXSW 2023, SXSW Film 2023, Angel Applicant