Movie Review – Never Look Away
Category : Movie Review
Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Had I seen Never Look Away last year when it was released, I would have stumped for it to not only be nominated for Best Foreign Film, but for Best Picture as well. As it is, the film was nominated for Foreign and for Cinematography, both incredibly deserved, and it’s now on my list of the best of 2018, regardless that I saw it one year too late. It’s an incredible mix of German cinema that has come before, while also being an amazing individual accomplishment. Think Black Book, Frantz, and The Lives of Others to have some idea of what to expect, and if you haven’t seen those movies I recommend that you remedy that. A touch of Nazi-era, some romance, the Berlin Wall, a few subtle thrills, Russian socialism, art school; it’s a mix of styles, genres, moods, time periods, and emotions, but somehow it all makes sense as a final product, if audiences are able to step back and allow themselves to be wowed.
During Nazi dominance, a boy’s beloved young aunt is institutionalized and later killed, as part of the genetic cleansing supervised by a professor and doctor named Carl Seeband. After the fall of Hitler and the installment of Soviet rule, Seeband is at first imprisoned and then protected, this murderous but brilliant gynecologist and obstetrician. Years later, the boy, named Kurt, has grown up and inherited his aunt’s love of art and feel for the true beauty of life. He falls in love with a fellow student named Ellie, who is Seeband’s daughter, and the pair quickly become inseparable. Although their connection is unknown, and even more secrets lie beneath the surface, Heir Seeband dislikes young Kurt, and plots to break up the happy couple. Meanwhile, Kurt’s artistic flow is blocked, both by the overbearing East Berlin occupation and by his own inability to connect with the truth of the past, setting up an eventual breakthrough that will be neither quick nor painless.
Donnersmarck has directed three films: The Lives of Others, The Tourist, and Never Look Away. His first was excellent, a look at East Berlin in the 80s that was taut with tension, and it won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film. His second was terrible, a move to Hollywood and to established American stars, which did not succeed in any way. His third is a return to what worked, and boy does it work. We head back to post-WWII, socialist, Soviet Germany and all that entails, but we also get a bonus; a story that begins during the Third Reich and carries its drama over a span of twenty-five years, affecting everyone it touches along the way. Donnersmarck layers the drama thinly, but the weight is inexorable, and audiences will feel it eventually over the three-hour length of the film, which might sound daunting, but is exquisitely balanced and never feels unjustified.
There are too many elements to give full credit to any one aspect; this film is assuredly one that thrives on its many parts and their interactions, its many moods and all the twists along the road to the final climax. It really is a display of numerous styles and times, weaved together to create something over-arcingly magnificent. Schilling is so captivating, his eyes and his smile, a lovely leading man who shows that looks can go a long, positive way, without taking anything away from acting prowess; sometimes appearances are simply beneficial. Beer is probably the better actor, though her part is smaller, but she still makes her mark. And Koch is such a wonderfully despicable villain, especially is this role, he plays the part so well, and you’ll loathe him by the end. The film is about art, about freedom, about expression, about love, but it also tells a seldom-heard tale of groups and lives the Nazis destroyed that might not be as widely-known, so hats off for capping off what is essentially a war-torn romance with serious historical context. Don’t Look Away is part drama, part thriller, inspired by a true story, as well-rounded as you are ever likely to see, and should have made more noise one year ago; I’m just glad I finally heard the call.
My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆