The title of Never Look Away is deliciously ironic: this is one of the most mesmerizing, compulsively watchable films in recent memory. Written and directed by Florian Henckel von
The title of Never Look Away is deliciously ironic: this is one of the most mesmerizing, compulsively watchable films in recent memory. Written and directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck — best known for his masterful 2006 drama The Lives of Others — this meditation on art, memory and meaning is yet another deep-dive into the postwar psyche of the filmmaker’s native Germany. Here, Donnersmarck considers the life and early career of painter Gerhard Richter, whose autobiography and subject matter have intersected with the most seismic dislocations of 20th century Germany to a breathtakingly coincidental degree. Kurt, the fictional protagonist of Never Look Away who bears a close but imperfect resemblance to Richter, visits a museum in Dresden. Captivated by the paintings of Otto Dix, Franz Marc and others, he’s told by a docent that such nihilistic, self-indulgent art has no place in Nazi Germany. Meanwhile, Kurt’s beloved Aunt Elisabeth (Saskia Rosendahl), who has brought her nephew to the museum, whispers conspiratorially that she prefers the verboten moderns to the sentimental romanticism sanctioned by the Reich.
Thus, Kurt embarks on a journey of dualities that will haunt him throughout a war — one in which he observes U.S. bombers with awe, even as they destroy his hometown; that will force his father to join the Nazi party, even though he can’t bring himself to say “Heil Hitler”; and one in which his family members will be killed by both sides. That duality extends to his burgeoning relationship with a fellow student, Ellie (Paula Beer). Ellie’s father, Professor Seeband (Sebastian Koch), a famous doctor, is dismayed at his daughter’s choice of boyfriend and vows to destroy the relationship. What neither of them knows is that their lives are already connected through a terrible crime Seeband committed decades ago. The drama of Never Look Away resides in how Kurt will process the traumas and unspoken betrayals of his past into an artistic language that feels personal, new and urgent, and that can accommodate intuition and indictment in equal measure.
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