20,000 Days on Earth is a film concerning places. Geographical ones, figurative ones, emotional states, frames of mind – you name it, it’s explored in this fine, formally inventive documentary about husky art figure Nick Cave. Except, it’s not really about him; although he occupies every moment of the movie either physically, through voiceover, or with his sheer, commanding presence, 20,000 Days on Earth uses its star as a multi-faceted lens, malleable to its ulterior motives, which is to get at something greater than just a single man.

But that single man has many talents, and as an accomplished musician, screenwriter, author, composer, and actor, Nick Cave is a busy one, too. In a sequence that sets the scene for the introspective yet preternatural quality of the film, Cave narrates his waking from slumber, drifting straight out of bed and into his study, intoning with a sort of quizzical portent – and a self-awareness that punctuates the entire picture – that ‘this is my twenty-thousandth day on Earth’. There in his study, surrounded by snapshots, posters and paraphernalia from his varied past, Cave and his typewriter are two parts of a creative fountain; the machine is the faucet; the man, the source. It’s difficult to see where one ends and the other begins, for Cave seems to live solely to create. From then on, the visual-artist duo Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard – on full-on feature directing duties here, after a series of short films – use the minutiae of a normal day in Cave’s life to illuminate the cycle of creation, reassessment and retrospection that sees his past very much informing his present. Of course, it’s all staged – but we soon begin to believe in its naked artificiality.

The Aussie Cave, having migrated to the English seaside town of Brighton years ago, drives from place to place in his car, from therapy appointment, to studio session, to archive research. In between, his passenger seat becomes the place for some humorous, revealing ghostly chit-chat; Ray Winstone and Kylie Minogue both make appearances, chewing the fat with Cave on, among other things, life. While these segments are complete flight of fancies, they have a smack of the real about them; as if a script was glanced at, but a conversation flowed naturally instead. It’s the same for every other segment; while his therapy session is staged, what is revealed during it feels utterly genuine. It’s this magnificent, calm-headed refusal to paint any part of the film as fact or fiction that pushes 20,000 Days on Earth above any other docs that may be frightened to subscribe to either, and is reason alone to see it – whether you’re a fan of Mr. Cave, are a curious bystander, or are completely indifferent to his work. This picture is instead about the process, the delicate, undetectable sparks of inspiration and genius that occur between artist and canvas – or between subject and camera.

54.8 years. 20,000 days. 480,000 hours. 2,8800,000 minutes, or 1,728,000,000 seconds. However you want to put it, time is merely a construct, and Forsyth and Pollard realise this fully in this glorious, genre-defying discourse into art, life and the connective tissue that connects them. Cave’s day on Earth is a lifetime he keeps reliving, and knows it; he seems to be wilfully trapped in a cycle, one that he never seems to know how he got himself into. Similarly, you’ll never know quite when 20,000 Days on Earth ends, or when it begins – but the feeling of being caught up right in the middle of it is unforgettable.