NEVER LOOK AWAY (WERK OHNE AUTOR)
(director/writer: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck; cinematographer: Caleb Deschanel; editor: Patricia Rommel/Patrick Sanchez-Smith; music: Max Richter; cast: Tom Schilling (Kurt Barnert), Cai Cohrs (Young Kurt), Paula Beer (Ellie Seeband), Sebastian Koch(Professor Carl Seeband), Oliver Masucci (Professor Antonius van Verten), Saskia Rosendahl (Elisabeth May), Ina Weisse (Martha Seeband), David Schütter (Adrian Schimmel / Finck), Joerg Schuettauf (Johann Barnert) Jeannette Hain (Waltraut Barnert), Lars Eidinger(Ausstellungsführer Heiner Kerstens), Hanno Koffler (Günther Preusser), Mark Zak (Dolmetscher Murawjow); Runtime: 188; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Jan Mojto, Quirin Berg, Max Wiedemann, Christiane Henckel Von Donnersmarck, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck; Sony Pictures Classics; 2018-Germany/Italy-in German with English subtitles)
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The film has been selected as this year’s German Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language film. The German filmmaker Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (“The Tourist”/”The Lives of Others”) is the writer and director of this overly melodramatic and overlong (188-minutes) history dramatization of the turbulence in the 20th-century of Germany, that covers three decades from the 1930s until the Berlin Wall in the 1960s. It follows a young protagonist – inspired by the story of the renown visionary social realist painter Gerhard Richter – from his childhood in Nazi Germany through student life in the Communist GDR and eventually to becoming a prominent artist in West Germany. His art tried to capture the traumatic war days. Here he’s named Kurt Barnert (Tom Schilling), who as a young German artist from Dresden falls in love with art student Ellie Seeband (Paula Beer). But her overbearing hospital director father, Professor Carl Seeband (Sebastian Koch), opposes their relationship. Complications arise as Carl’s role in the Nazi eugenics program is revealed and he becomes a murderer in hiding–even murdering one of his relatives.It opens with the free-spirited young Aunt Elizabeth (Saskia Rosendahl) taking her young nephew Kurt (Cai Cohrs) to see the now-infamous Nazi exhibition of “Degenerate Art” in Dresden in 1937 (the exhibit was in actuality in 1932). The Nazi guide (Lars Eidinger) haughtily speaks contemptuously of the art. The narrative proceeds to take us through the war years, and at the war’s end into the division of Germany into East and West. The East was under Soviet influence and they built the Berlin Wall as a barrier between communism and western democracy. The ambitious film blends together documentary realism and blurred personal memories of the period to tell its chilling story in an awkward way that enlivens the tale by showing Aunt Elizabeth in the nude playing the piano for the aspiring artist Kurt (Schilling) and later is hauled off to the asylum when she starts beating herself and later to the gas chamber. The film’s title is derived when Auntie tells her wide-eyed nephew “everything that is true is beautiful” and to “never look away.” But it deadens the horrors of the Nazis somewhat by failing to lay out the eugenics program in its full barbarism. In place it uses Kurt’s voice to cry out for the power of art in the face of terror. But that sounds hollow.
This confusing way the film mixes together politics, art, love and autobiography goes nowhere until it settles down in the last hour and we can see how both art and love can indeed be inspiring and act to change the world for the better. In one misguided scene von Donnersmarck shows the interior of a gas chamber where the mental patients are being murdered—and– he cross-cuts that with the bombing of Dresden, as if trying to tell us they are comparable acts of evil. Despite the filmmaker’s pro-western and anti-Nazi stance and his healthy views on contemporary art, I found some things disagreeable.
REVIEWED ON 11/15/2018 GRADE: B- https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/