Film review ‘NEVER LOOK AWAY’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

Part romance, part epic German historical drama, Never Look Away tells a story of personal trauma, artistic expression and self-discovery through the Second World War and its aftermath.

Set over a tumultuous 30-year period, the film begins in 1937 as the Nazi program is beginning to have a devastating impact on German society and culture. During this time young Kurt Barnet (Cai Cohrs) begins his fascination with art under the guidance of his beloved aunt Elizabeth (Saskia Rosendahl). Due to her mental illness, however, Elisabeth becomes victim, like so many others, to a brutal Nazi extermination program, an event that has a lifelong impact on Kurt. Later amid the wreckage of fire-bombed Dresden, a young adult Kurt (Tom Schilling) now an aspiring artist, meets the stunning Ellie (Paula Beer) whom he marries not knowing her family’s sinister connection to his past. To reveal much more would be a spoiler but suffice to say the plot might seem impossibly coincidental if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s based on the real life of painter Gerhard Richter.

Never Look Away is an often powerful and intelligent piece of filmmaking although not overall as potent and provocative as it’s confronting early scenes promise. This is in part because of its three-hour length which allows for some leisurely scenes as Kurt heads into married life and explores new artistic avenues in the 50’s and 60’s.

Also, the film features a slightly subdued central performance from Tom Schilling as Kurt. He’s a likeable and sympathetic figure but doesn’t seem particularly traumatised by the experiences that are meant to have scarred him for life – he’s a little too chilled. Consequently, his healing through art isn’t as moving and meaningful as it should have been.

Some of the other performances are more compelling. As his nemesis, father in law and former Nazi doctor, Professor Carl Seeband, Sebastian Koch is superbly oily. While making Seeband an arrogant, pompous, unrepentant bastard, Koch never overplays the character. The two main female characters Elisabeth and Ellie as played by Saskia Rosendahl and Paula Beer respectively are both mesmerising. Oliver Masucci also delivers a memorable performance as the physically and emotionally scarred Dusseldorf Art Professor who at first seems like a pretentious knob but ends up being a profoundly moving character.

As well as its quasi-biopic of Richter the film is a potted history of European 20th century art, exploring modernists and cubists (both of which were equally despised by the Nazis and the Soviets) through Socialist Realism and then the outrageous modern and performance art of the Dusseldorf Academy Kurt attends in the 1960’s which looks like something out of an Austin Powers parody.

Mixing modern history, personal drama, art and even a little comedy, there are pockets of interest in this film for just about any viewer but this middle brow arthouse film doesn’t quite come together as the exhilarating work it might have been.

Nick’s rating: ***1/2

Genre: Historical drama.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck.

Release date: 20th June 2019.

Running time: 189 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.

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