Thursday, February 14, 2019

Art and life beautifully, cleverly, sadly explored in Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's Oscar-nominated NEVER LOOK AWAY

German filmmaker Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck has made only three full-length movies over the past dozen years, but two of these -- The Lives of Others and the current NEVER LOOK AWAY are keepers. (His third, The Tourist, was a mostly flashy-crap remake of a better, shorter film.) His two good films have their flaws, and I don't think they are as profound as the filmmaker might imagine. But I also don't think that matters much because they are plenty good as is: rich in theme and ideas, well-written and directed, and performed to a "t" by actors that could hardly be improved upon.

Herr von Donnersmarck (shown at left) has also done something of a service to art in his approach to this film because he actually offers us an artist/hero who cares about art more than he does about money or prestige -- and thus spends his life (and the movie) trying to produce art that's worthwhile.

If this sounds pompous and tiresome, the result proves anything but, as the filmmaker has surrounded his themes with a crackerjack melodrama that fascinates, troubles, and -- finally -- quite beautifully adheres.

The film begins in the Nazi era in a German art gallery, during which a rather nasty and pompous tour guide (above) takes his group around an art show made up of the kind of "decadent" modern art that Adolf Hitler so loathed.

Within that little tour group is a very pretty young women named Elizabeth May (Saskia Rosendahl, above, right) and her small nephew, a bright and open little boy, Kurt (Cai  Cohrs, above and below) who will grow into our artist hero. Both aunt and child seem to possess an understanding of and love for this so-called decadent art.

Although Elizabeth departs the film early and very sadly, it is her spirit that most hangs over the remaining movie. It is she who tells our hero the titular words, Never look away! The reason why resonates throughout this very long (three hours and nine minutes) movie,

which tracks both our hero's career and his love life (he is now played by the very skillful Tom Schilling, above) as well as the constant repression of art by dictatorships both fascist (the Nazis) and communist (the post-war German Democratic Republic), together with the eugenics and euthanasia practiced by the Nazis during World War II.

Regarding the latter, we have the character of Professor Carl Seeband (played by the fine Sebastian Koch, above), who is the man responsible for the murderous action that sets so much into play here.

After the many recent jibes at art and artists and the marketing of both, seen in everything from last year's fabulous The Square to the current and quite entertaining Velvet Buzzsaw on Netflix, what a joy it is to find a movie that not only takes art seriously but tries to genuinely show us the constant struggle involved in producing meaningful art. Sure, even in this film we see plenty of would-be artists trying to come up with the "new idea." But what counts is something else. (That's Paula Beer, below and above, right, as our hero's one true love -- other than art.)

Yes, the movie is a little long (TrustMovies thinks 15 minutes so could have easily been shorn with no great loss), yet it strong enough in theme and execution to withstand this. It also refuses to easily tie up certain loose ends regarding justice and punishment. (How many ex-Nazis were allowed by the Allies to work for them, go free, or emigrate elsewhere in the world?)

There is not always -- nor, I am afraid, need there be -- a connection between morality and art. "Never look away, Kurt," Elizabeth tells her charge, "because everything that's true is beautiful." Which helps explain the conception of a lot of very strange art. That's an opinion with which artist/revolutionary Joseph Beuys might agree. Beuys is clearly the model for the art teacher (played by Oliver Masucci, above) who most affects our troubled hero.

All told, a grand combination of melodrama and ideas, Never Look Away has been nominated for two Oscars, as Best Foreign Language Film and for its cinematography (by Caleb Deschanel). Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics, it opened on the coasts at the end of last year and will finally hit South Florida this Friday, February 15, at Miami's Tower Theater and Fort Lauderdale's Classic Gateway.  On February 22, it opens in Palm Beach County at the Living Room Theaters and Regal Shadowood in Boca Raton, and at the Movies of Delray and Movies of Lake Worth. Wherever you reside around the country, click here then click on WATCH NOW to find the theaters nearest you.

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