Anyone who watches Ilya and Emilia Kabakov: Enter Here will learn plenty: about the global art market, the relationship between Russia’s state and its culture, the difference between fine art under Lenin and today’s oligarchs. Eighty-year-old conceptual artist Ilya Kabakov readily offers that he was inspired by the first wave of revolutionary aesthetics, whereas his brassy producer-wife proudly boasts about growing up in a post-Stalinist Russia. The research that went into the film seems a largesse, but it’s compromised at every turn by filmmaker Amei Wallach’s sloppy, pedantic delivery. For example, an installation designed by Mr. Kabakov to resemble a bourgeois 1920s apartment, warmly lit and more than a little conspicuous in its emptiness, is given in Wallach’s film a voiceover reading from an old letter written by Kabakov’s mother, feebly performed in stereotypically sad-sack Russian-accented English, vacuuming whatever mystery Kabakov wanted to imbue into his work with cheap historical dot-connecting.
In a loosely improvised documentary like Emile De Antonio’s Painters Painting, you can feel the camera opting for simplicity, seeking out the widest, least-tweaked images possible of the artwork in question—essentially, a means of record-keeping. The case in Enter Here is very much the opposite: Shots of Kabakov’s installations or paintings are often superimposed upon larger images, the edges digitally feathered off like a homemade DVD menu or an accidentally double-stacked PowerPoint slide. It’s anyone’s guess why Wallach felt his garish, freakishly digital collage work was a worthy match for his subject, because it both obscures and competes with Kabakov on screen. Interviewees are half-dissolved into the frames with incomplete landscapes or artwork behind them, so neither the person nor whatever they’re speaking about can be fully glimpsed. There are moments—like a lingering, slow-motion pan across a gallery opening—that hint at visual ideas connecting with narrative bedrock, but they turn out to be flukes.
The film’s overall lack of formal precision is startling. Some subtitles appear for English speakers with accents, but other Russian speakers are blandly dubbed over. Walls of artwork are sloppily swept into careless, quick pans, Wallach apparently always preferring quantity to quality. Editor Ken Kobland puts no sense of play or rhythm into his cuts, so every stroke is less “inspired” than random, clueless, jumbled. The film exists in a compound fracture: Given ostensibly roaming access to one of the most vaunted artists in the world today, the filmmakers serve up a movie that would actually be more informative with its sound off. Once the standard chronological biography points have been indexed, Enter Here emerges as yet another blown opportunity, a supposed documentary film that actually devalues the potential of its own medium.