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angel applicant : a compelling, brilliant double portrait

Part of the Sydney Film Festival, with its world premiere at SXSW, receiving the top documentary  prize, ANGEL APPLICANT is an extremely powerful and gripping, rather overwhelming film that leaves you pondering the Big Questions about life .

What happens next? Will it ever go away?

This is an extraordinary film by Ken August Meyer about his diagnosis and dealing with systemic scleroderma and how he becomes fascinated by the artwork of Paul Klee (1879-1940), the Swiss-German painter who suffered the same rare disease.

Meyer was working as an ad agency art director in Portland, Oregon when, in 2000, he was diagnosed with systemic scleroderma. He has now turned  film director for this intimate, beautifully photographed film. ANGEL APPLICANT follows the progression of his disease.

We learn how the disease affects the immune system and skin, fuses joints and can badly damage major organs such as the heart and lungs. Hs face begins to look shiny and plasticky as if he is a store mannequin. His skin and joints harden…

Meyer uses a mannequin to show how he feels like a living doll.  It is still a mystery as to the cause of this disease- he ponders why him? solvents? pesticides? carbon monoxide ? A star sent a stray gamma ray to affect his DNA? Was it ‘ just’ the Will of the Universe? Was he ‘hexed’ by the guy at the restaurant? We see the strain on his family too, but also their love and support of him and his medical team.

Like Meyer, the famous artist Paul Klee suffered from the disease. In 1933 Klee, a painter who studied at the Academy Of Fine Arts in Munich and lived and worked in Germany, including a stint teaching at the iconic Bauhaus, was denounced as a  degenerate artist, and managed to escape from Germany under the Nazi regime.

Once back in Switzerland however, a strange disease began to disrupt  his life in a major way. The physical changes Klee’s body suffered, affecting his mobility, led to a new style of works. His paintings became  progressively abstract.

Klee began to use stronger lines in his paintings with larger blocks of colour, and in his daily drawings Klee chronicled the restraints he experienced. In his last months Klee painted a series of paintings with angels, a choice which Meyer regards as full of bravado .His disease was only diagnosed after his death .

Both artists had to change their style and way of creating. Meyer examines Klee’s various last works whilst coping with his own mortality. He becomes totally fascinated by Klee’s last works and uses them to help him deal with his daily struggles.

The title of the film comes from Klee’s 1939 painting. To Meyer, Klee becomes both angel and therapist in an intimate connection, with Meyer searching for a redefined sense of self.

Meyer manages to make an expedition to Europe to visit some of the spots featured in Klee’s work, including the Museum and his last residence in Bern. He gets to meet Klee’s grandson and is most excited to discover that Klee had left a handwritten inscription in the margins of his last, unfinished piece: “Not all of the unexplained is in need of explanation.”

So yes there are some happy patches (including a most significant birthday) mixed in with the downbeat. ANGEL APPLICANT documents what it means to live with a life threatening disease and sometimes morphs to almost a reality TV show with Klee giving support. (Meyer’s wife and daughter have performed a significant role, mainly unseen behind the scenes, Meyer mostly keeping them off screen). We see how Meyer has hand surgery, and then survives a major double lung transplant amongst other  medical procedures.

ANGEL APPLICANT shows how creativity can help make the most of life and endure major adversity.

A compelling, fascinating double portrait.

ANGEL APPLICANT screens at the Dendy Newtown cinema on 8th and 10th June, 2023.

ANGEL APPLICANT is a must see.




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