NEVER LOOK AWAY gets 8.5/10 Art for art’s sake

Directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

Starring Tom Schilling, Sebastian Koch, Paula Beer


Heavily inspired by the life and work of Gerhard Richter, this Oscar nominated German film charts the life of fictitious artist Kurt Barnert (Tom Schilling) from his childhood in Nazi Germany, to his time behind the Iron Curtain, to the heyday of modern art at the Düsseldorf Art Academy. Throughout this journey Kurt struggles with the meaning of his art, seeking substance beyond professional proficiency, artistic fame, financial security, or following established trends. In that search for his voice, we also see the effects of the personal, as Kurt comes into conflict with his father-in-law (played with cool arrogance by Sebastian Koch), a former SS doctor.

Strangely enough, despite its 189-minute run-time Never Look Away is undoubtedly the most tightly scripted film to date this year. That is an extraordinary feat in and of itself, with the three hour run time covering a lot of ground, both chronologically and philosophically. Never Look Away also sets itself a mammoth task, as it is not just examining the life of an artist (albeit by fictional proxy in this case), but in examining broader matters of art and society, and the artist’s place in that as an individual. Hence it is packed, quickly threading its narratives together into a cohesive whole, creating something that doesn’t waste a moment of its long screen time.

Never Look Away launches into this straight away, from a Nazi led tour through the 1937 Degenerative Art Exhibition, immediately showcasing the importance of the interrelation between art and society to its thesis. Direct speeches to the camera are a reoccurring motif through the film (covering a wide range of classical inspired and modern art), yet at no point feel forced, or staged. They are the natural consequence of the narrative and the milieu that Kurt is submersed in, dove-tailing into the artist’s own contemplation of his work and the film’s central thesis on the power of art arising from the expression of the personal informed by the societal.

Curiouser still, for a film devoted to art, Never Look Away rarely seeks to overwhelm audiences with staged moments of cinematic beauty (with perhaps two notable exceptions). Instead, it is intent on keeping a consistently excellent quality to its visual style, rather than stretching for those flourishes of spectacle. It’s an oddly immersive effect, setting it apart from many films of its ilk, granting it a more serious attitude to its subject.

All of which makes for an enthralling piece of cinema, capable of entertaining and enriching.


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