Thomas Riedelsheimer’s “Leaning Into the Wind” is a slow and ponderous portrait of a peculiar landscape sculptor named Andy Goldsworthy. It’s actually Riedelsheimer’s second documentary feature on the British artist, following 2001’s “Rivers and Tides.”
“Leaning Into the Wind” attempts to capture the heart, soul and process behind several of Goldsworthy’s works. As the film opens, we find Goldsworthy mentally deconstructing an abandoned home in Brazil, considering the details of its structure and musing over the people who lived there.
Goldsworthy is intimately involved in his work — to an almost unfathomable degree. Riedelsheimer’s camera patiently follows the artist to various locations around the world to watch him ponder and muse on his surroundings and finally set about making creations of his own.
Early on, those creations are simple and transitory. Goldsworthy shows us photographs of overturned and cracked tree branches in Scotland that he’s filled with snow or covered with monochromatic leaves. We watch him painstakingly wet numerous bright yellow leaves to paste over rocks in a stream, only to see the wind kick up and ruin his efforts.
As he muses over his work, Goldsworthy acknowledges that he’s still “trying to make sense of the world.” His work is exclusively tied to nature, and though often it requires tools and increasingly heavy equipment to create, the results almost look like nature’s own handiwork.
In between long and ponderous tracking shots, scenes of Goldsworthy at work or interjections of the eccentric artist sharing bits and pieces of philosophy, we also see a different side of Goldsworthy. He has a thing for crawling through dense thickets and hedges, and Riedelsheimer offers up numerous lengthy, single-take examples of the artist’s quirk that will test the patience of unsuspecting audiences.
But apparently Goldsworthy’s patience is rubbing off. In several scenes, we see Holly — one of the artist’s five children — assisting her father, and at one moment in the film, they sit on a riverbank with their feet in the water, painstakingly covering Goldsworthy’s hands with red leaves in preparation for another contemplative image. It’s a tender moment between father and daughter, and it humanizes Andy Goldsworthy.
As the documentary moves on, Goldsworthy’s creations become more elaborate, more interesting and more permanent. As we bounce from Brazil to Scotland to France to St. Louis, simple and vulnerable creations made of twigs and wet leaves give way to stone monuments such as a narrow trench through a wall of rocks in New Hampshire and a series of casket-sized holes cut out of massive boulders called “Sleeping in Stone.”
Even here we learn more of Goldsworthy’s apprehensions about nature. When debating whether he can justify cutting into bedrock rather than merely working with boulders and rocks that are already on their “journey,” Goldsworthy is visibly distressed.
The final products of his efforts are often striking, and Riedelsheimer frequently pairs them with artistic cinematography of his own. But by waiting until the end to get to “the good stuff,” so to speak, Riedelsheimer almost dares the audience to stick with the documentary, which is slow and deliberately paced at best. “Leaning Into the Wind: Andy Goldsworthy” features some interesting imagery — including the late scenes that inspire the documentary’s title — but for many audiences, Riedelsheimer’s effort will remain an acquired taste.
“Leaning Into the Wind” is rated PG for brief language; running time: 93 minutes.