Never Look Away

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NEVER LOOK AWAY, an exquisitely produced ‘intimate epic’ drama from Germany in 2018, written & directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, saw him—after the money-making but critically bludgeoned snooze The Tourist— head back to the home turf he probed so well in The Lives Of Others. Though not a box-office success, it drew strong, often rhapsodic reviews (and the expected minority of pissy naysayers) and earned well-deserved Oscar nominations for Best Foreign Film and for Caleb Deschanel’s superb cinematography.

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Inspired by historical events (and incidents in the life of abstract artist Gerhard Richter), it spans three eras of 20th-century German history, over a long but generally enthralling 188 minutes. The detail-suffused story follows painter ‘Kurt Barnert’ (Tom Schilling) from his traumatic family and childhood experiences during the Nazi reign to his art student days in the East Germany of the 1950’s, and then on the fuller expression of his creative self after escaping to West Germany in 1961. He’s happily married to fellow student and fashion design hopeful ‘Ellie’ (Paula Beer), but her ice-cold father, ‘Professor Seeband’ (Sebastian Koch), a respected doctor, isn’t pleased with Kurt and cruelly does what he can to undermine the relationship. What the struggling couple and their in-house nemesis don’t know is that Kurt and Herr Doktor are already connected, through a terrible crime Seeband committed when Kurt was a little boy.

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Most write-ups were quite positive, yet whenever a handsome, meticulously mounted historical drama dares to deal in ideas—poetry, philosophy, politics, and this case both the latter two and how they interact with art, and the urge to make it stand for something, there’s sure to be a dedicated cadre of wankknobs panting to let you know how smart they are and how shallow the film is. This one was no exception: a pox on their sneers. The period recreations are marvelous, the script is thoughtful, the acting excellent. If the ambitious movie has a flaw, it’s that perhaps leading man Schilling is a mite less compelling than the other actors and the superb visual design. He’s not bad at all, just a tad too remote. Otherwise, it’s a very impressive piece.

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Worldwide it amassed $5,094,655, a sad financial outcome after a production cost of around $20,000,000. Abetted by a fine music score from Max Richter (no relation to the artist Richter, who was not pleased with the film). Locations include Dresden, Berlin, Dusseldorf and Prague. A large and well-picked cast includes Hanno Koffler, Oliver Massuci, Evgeniy Sidikhin, Lars Eidinger, Rainer Bock, Ina Weisse and Cai Cohrs.

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