Posts Tagged ‘Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’

Tom Shilling

“NEVER LOOK AWAY”  My rating: B

188 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Never Look Away” is so many things at once that it takes a good chunk of its three-hour running time for it to settle down and take shape.

It is the latest from writer/director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, whose 2006 “The Lives of Strangers” (set in the repressive world of the East German secret police) won the Oscar for foreign language film.

This new effort is at various times  a history of modern Germany, a family saga, a personal odyssey and, ultimately, a story of finding one’s voice in a world determined to tell us what to think, feel and express.

It begins in Nazi Germany at the notorious exhibition of “degenerate” modern art. An insufferably pompous guide describes how in their paintings artists like Picasso and Kandinsky promote “madness and mental illness.”

But among the gallery visitors are the beautiful Elisabeth (a screen-dominating Saskia Rosendahl) and her young nephew Kurt (Cai Cohrs), who though a child is already drawing like an adult. “Don’t tell anybody,” Aunt Elisabeth whispers in his ear, “but I like it.”

The first hour of “Never Look Away” follows Kurt’s boyhood.  Aunt Elisabeth is lively and charming…and also schizophrenic. One day Kurt follows the sound of piano music to find Elisabeth sitting nude at the keyboard. He’s both appalled and fascinated.

“Never look away,” she tells him.

In Hitler’s Germany, alas, mental illness is something to be eradicated rather than treated. Kurt’s beloved aunt is hauled off by men in white coats and vanishes into a medical system that, if she’s lucky, will only sterilize her.

Meanwhile Kurt’s family suffers; his father loses his teaching job after declining to join the Nazi Party; eventually he relents. Then, after their town is “liberated” by the Russians, he is told his party membership will keep him from ever teaching again. Menial labor is all that’s left.

In the second hour Kurt (now a young man played by Tom Schilling) hand-paints signage, is admitted to an art training program, and finds himself forced to adhere to a soul-numbing socialist realism style as doctrinaire as anything embraced by the Third Reich (peasants with scythes staring bravely into the future). One bright spot: he falls for a fellow student (Paual Beer) who is not only named Elisabeth but physically resembles his lost aunt.

The downside  is Elisabeth’s father, Carl (Sebastian Koch), a famed (and arrogant) gynecologist who once embraced Nazi eugenics, managed to elude trial as a war criminal, and now is a vocal supporter of Communism. Carl doesn’t view a struggling artist as good son-in-law material. (Turns out that Carl and young Kurt have a connection that neither is aware of…I won’t give it away here.)


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