never look away
DIRECTOR: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (the lives of others, the tourist)
starring: Tom Schilling, Paula Beer, Saskia Rosendahl, and Sebastian Koch
REVIEWER: lyall carter
When two German art students fall in love, the girl's father, who has a devastating secret, vows to end their relationship.
When I heard that Florian Henckel Von Donnersmark had a new German film coming out in 2019 it was at the very top of my 'must watch' list. His 2006 film The Lives of Others is in my top five films of all time (I'll tell you the other four later). But if I'm super excited for a film and have high expectations I usually find that I'm disappointed. Not in this case. Never Look Away is one of the most exquisitely beautiful and dramatically rich films of the last decade.
Young artist Kurt Barnert has fled to West-Germany, but he continues to be tormented by the experiences he made in his childhood and youth in the Nazi years and during the GDR-regime. When he meets the student Ellie, he is convinced that he has met the love of his life and begins to create paintings that mirror not only his own fate, but also the traumas of an entire generation.
Never Look Away feels as though it was made in a different era, an era where film makers took their time with a story and weren't rushed into 2 hours slots to please cinema owners. Its a sweeping, romantic historical epic that follows artist Kurt Barnert across the decades from an early age to his time as a painter.
As it covers decades, Never Look Away not only follows and explores Kurt's life, but the lives of the people that surround him. And it does take some time, just over 3 hours, but the narrative web that Henckel Von Donnersmark slowly spins is more than worth the wait as the character arcs come home to roost.
We find love, hate, misfortune, luck, heartache and every other human experience wrapped up in Never Look Away. But what I found most intriguing, narratively, is the inspiration of Barnert's work. To his audience in the film the inspiration for his work is completely unknown.
But we, the cinematic audience, we know every person, love, and loss that has been poured out into Barnert's work. Its a theme that Henckel Von Donnersmark also explores in The Lives of Others, and here he explores it just as beautifully.
There is a reason Caleb Deschanel was nominated for best cinematography at the Oscars; Never Look Away is cinematically breathtaking. Every frame is deeply considered, beautifully framed, and lit. There are subtle but inventive scene edits leading you to believe that you are experiencing a director and cinematographer who aren't just film makers but artists at the very height of their craft.
The performances are all spell binding with Sebastian Koch (the German George Clooney) as Ellie's father giving a truly stand out performance. Although Saskia Rosendahl isn't in the film as much as the other four actors, her performance is utterly haunting.
*German with English subtitles.
A modern cinematic masterpiece Never Look Away is one of the most exquisitely beautiful and dramatically rich films of the last decade.