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article imageReview: ‘Never Look Away’ finds inspiration in all of life’s experiences Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Feb 24, 2019 in Entertainment
‘Never Look Away’ is a poignant film that follows a young artist as he comes to terms with the war that destroyed his family and will eventually inspire his greatest work.
Since the conclusion of World War II, storytellers have approached the conflict and its fallout from numerous perspectives. Some are less direct than others, opting to follow the path of someone not immediately involved, but affected nonetheless. The repercussions of that particular war were long-lasting as the hunt for high-ranking officials that played key roles in Hitler’s design continued for decades. Consequently, it was often the children who felt the burden of their parents’ sins in post-war Germany. In Never Look Away, life behind the communist wall becomes too difficult to bear.
Kurt Barnert (Tom Schilling) was only a boy when the war began and even though his family didn’t fully support the Nazi party, they were good Germans. They kept their dissent to themselves, their undesirable traits secret and their swastikas in plain sight. But the war would take many of their loved ones. Years later, Kurt would be accepted into a prestigious East German art school where they would bridle his natural talents in service of socialism and, in turn, realism. There, he’d meet Ellie Seeband (Paula Beer) — a fashion student and the daughter of a prestigious gynecologist (Sebastian Koch). No longer able to endure the suffocating authoritarianism, the couple flees to the West where they’re free to express their love and Kurt can make the art his heart desires.
This is unquestionably Kurt’s story, into which Ellie is eventually folded. It’s the tale of how all of life’s experiences influence the person we become, though we don’t always realize it until much later. Even after escaping the repressive influences of the East, Kurt has trouble deciding who he wants to be. It’s not until he taps into his past and the ghosts that haunt it that he’s able to find his artistic voice. Reconnecting to the most influential woman in his life is such a breakthrough, which reverberates in ways he never could have anticipated. Yet the paintings Kurt produces are absolutely stunning and very affecting as he makes a technique thought dead by his contemporaries relevant again.
Art is obviously central to this narrative and the exploration of modern vs. traditional art occurs in two rooms only a few feet apart. But the film images themselves present an impact of their own. The opening act captures pictures of war, from planes filling the sky with communications interference to horrific scenes of tragedy and loss shown in a brief but poignant montage. Post-war Germany is shown as piles of rubble amongst which the characters live their lives and which’s presence in the frame is a constant reminder of the terror they too experienced.
In spite being a little more than three hours long, this is a film that captivates audiences from beginning to end. Most impressively, it does so by weaving an intricate story rather than by relying on action to hold viewers’ attention. When Kurt and Professor Seeband meet each other, the rest of the film is spent waiting for the shoe to finally drop… though when it does, it’s still not what many would expect. The actors are all terrific, giving themselves over to these roles and portraying authentic relationships whether they’re strained or impassioned. Schilling and Beer have a chemistry that’s evident even when they’re not entangled in each other’s arms, while it’s difficult to determine Koch’s most despicable act in the film.
This movie offers a unique perspective as it examines the effects of war via art in a manner that is surprisingly engaging and moving.
Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Starring: Tom Schilling, Sebastian Koch and Paula Beer
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