Never Look Away (***) R   

After stumbling with his sophomore 2010 effort The Tourist, acclaimed Oscar winning director, Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck, has finally returned with only his third effort in thirteen years, the sweeping historical biopic, Never Look Away. Von Donnersmarck’s 2006 debut, The Lives of Others, was rightfully met with much praise. The good news is that, although his latest film won’t match that first one, in terms of quality at least, it does restore some of the luster to the filmmaker’s fallen crown. It’s certainly a more worthy choice of material than that ill-fated aforementioned action comedy misfire from nearly a decade ago, a film that is mostly remembered as being on the receiving end of comedic jabs from Golden Globe host, Ricky Gervais.     

Never Look Away is in the running for a Best Foreign Film Oscar this year and it’s easy to discern why. This is a throwback to the kind of epic filmmaking that used to be seen commonly in the 1950s and 60s but less so these days. Clocking in at three hours and nine minutes, the film’s story carefully unfolds and is methodically told in a manner worthy of its larger than life subject, the painter Gerhard Richter. Only the lead character’s name has been changed in the film, to Kurt Barnet, but anyone with knowledge of Richter’s work will figure that out easily.    

Tom Schilling and Paula Beer in Never Look Away.

The film opens with a young woman, stark naked and sitting on a piano stool, telling her young nephew to ‘Never Look Away’ and that ‘Everything True is Beautiful.’ From this scene it’s pretty clearly established that the young woman has a mental disorder. Being that the locale is 1937 Germany and that those with mental disorders were frowned upon, we know this can’t possibly end well.

She is eventually sent to the gas chamber but her influence on her young nephew will continue to resonate long after she’s gone.    

Later the film jumps ahead and we follow that young boy, Kurt Barnet, in his attempts to make it as an artist as a young man at Dresden’s Academy of Art. There he meets a woman who reminds him of his aunt. They marry but live under the shadow of Kurt’s father in law who is a prominent doctor of psychiatry and just may have ties to the Nazi regime. Kurt and his wife attempt to start a family while dealing with the pressures of Kurt’s struggles to establish himself as an artist in his own right.  

Never Look Away pulls a neat trick in that it manages to utilize the changing times as a backdrop for the film’s story. The Berlin wall, WW II, the rise and fall of the Nazi party and the domination of the USSR are just a few things that are touched upon. It provides a great history lesson as well as stirring drama.

This film opens February 22 in Charlotte.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at [email protected].