If you happen to be a 6′9″ inch German man named Florian Maria Georg Christian Graf Henckel von Donnersmarck, it’s not surprising that you would be comfortable with an oversized movie that plays longer than Gone With the Wind. At over 3 hrs, the film needs editing and shortening but if you cut it to 2 1/2 hrs., you’d have a minor masterpiece. Even in its present frame, it’s a powerful and moving experience merging World War II with post-war communist Germany seen through the filter of a budding artist searching for his authentic and singular form of expression.
It begins with a visit to the Degenerate Art Exhibition organized by the Nazis against Jewish artists and others who defied classical standards. A beautiful young woman accompanies her very young nephew who loves to draw and we quickly learn of her quirkiness and his talent - two themes that are harbingers of his and her life stories. Hitler’s arm rapidly extends from art to disabled and mentally deficient people and the lovely but erratic Elisabeth is first hospitalized until more drastic measures are taken. As the young boy, Kurt, grows up, we see the further damage that Nazi control wreaks on his family, but he remains dedicated to becoming an artist and enrolls in a school in Dusseldorf where he is exposed to all the trendy aspects of the art world in the 60’s and 70’s, trying desperately to determine how he can contribute something original to a very crowded and chaotic scene.
The movie is a passionate love story between Kurt and Elisabeth, a fashion student he meets at school Her father is a noted doctor selected to be the head of a hospital that sterilizes and euthanizes imperfect people condemned by Hitler to be removed from the German gene pool. This is an important plot point in addition to a powerful reminder of the extent of Hitler’s massacres of the innocent The cinematography, soundtrack, casting, artistry and blending of history with character development make Never Look Away a particularly important film in a year that has had a dearth of any films with this panoramic sweep. The specific blending of the art world with contemporary historic events is another subject not often explored in film. Although the noted artist Gerhard Richter is thanked in the credits, he has disputed the attribution of this film to his personal biography but either way, the exploration of how an artist finds his “truth” is meaningful and dramatic. The ending provides a sensitive capture of the artist’s past coming back not only to haunt him but to inspire and inflame his talent and moral indignation. Never Look Away is one of the best films of the year and nominated for an Oscar in the foreign film category. DON’T MISS IT!!
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