Movie review: Never Look Away

Never Look Away— Running Time: 3:08 — Rating: R
The title: “Never Look Away.” The length: three hours and eight minutes. You plan to skip it? For all that time I never once wanted to leave my chair and the whole film still runs quietly through my mind. Its length is part of the reason. It takes all that time to do for us what writer/director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck intends while painting his portrait of an artist based on a leading German artist, Gerhard Richter.
It is 1933 and the opening scenes set the horrendous tone of Nazi control. In an art gallery tour, the Nazi guide announces which paintings are good and which are bad. Kurt (Cai Cohrs), a small boy, is there with his aunt Ellie who feeds him the message of free expression while they walk through the art show under the shouted instructions of what they are to like or dislike. Ellie’s stream of free thought lands her in the hands of Professor Carl Seeband (Sebastian Koch) who is heading the new sterilization program that will deal with unwanted women.
While the country is soaked with Nazi horrors, young Kurt (Tom Schilling) grows up knowing he will be a painter and we in the audience follow his search for his artistic core. The Nazi culture is utterly invasive but Kurt is embedded in his search for how and what he wants to paint.
As history unfolds around him, we in the audience become fascinated with his personal quest. Though the realities of the Nazis abound, we follow Kurt as he searches for the focus of his great talent. He can paint, but what will he paint? That happens only after he moves from the artistically conservative Dresden to Dusseldorf under the prodding of his fellow artist friend.
Even in this city that encouraged freedom, Kurt finally sits in frustration before blank canvases in his frustration at discovering who he is as an artist. He senses a something deep in his core and hasn’t yet discovered what it is. His search becomes our focus. Watching him explore his talent as his emotional tools unfold is thoroughly intriguing in the hands of this fine actor. His father-in-law: “Mozart was dead at 30, and you still don’t know? You’re still a student?”
This is a story of a man in search of what he wants to create with his deep talent and we in the audience have become silent partners in his determination. Schilling’s creation of the artist in search of himself is a thoroughly compelling mystery, deepened by his fine acting and the quiet way he moves through his confusion. It is deeply refreshing to follow an artist who is looking not for fame but to realize himself in the crushing times he and his family have lived through.
Though many intriguing small plots and emotional entanglements abound, we are absorbed by this artist who reaches not for success but to record and explain the destroyed world that surrounds him.
— Reviewed by Joan Ellis

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