Never Look Away

Directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck best known for 2007’s The Lives of Others which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, Never Look Away is an outstanding Oscar-nominated German film that takes an epic look at the generational and personal struggles of a young artist living through Nazi Germany and later Socialist East Germany. The movie begins during World War II in the German city of Dresden where the young child Kurt Barnert is exposed to modern art, which is strictly banned by the Nazi regime, by his loving aunt Elisabeth. To his great horror, eventually Elisabeth is diagnosed with a mental disorder that can be grounds for extermination by the Nazis and is determined by a medical doctor, in this case, the SS-affiliated gynecologist Professor Carl Seeband, played by the terrific Sebastian Koch. After tragedy befalls Kurt’s family and the utter destruction of Dresden, the story jumps to several years after World War II as the older Kurt, played by Tom Schilling, lives in repressive East Germany figuring out a way to pursue his dream of becoming a painter. He ultimately enrolls in a Dresden art academy, but he is rather unhappy being forced to paint in the restrictive school of art known as Socialist Realism in which the working class is venerated and all other subjects are strictly forbidden. However, he does fall in love with a fellow art student named Elizabeth, played by Paula Beer, who, unbeknownst to Kurt, is the daughter of Professor Seeband who condemned his aunt. Without either of them knowing who each other really is, the Professor does not approve of Kurt’s relationship with his daughter and does some rather vicious things in order to prevent them from getting together and having a child. The movie again fast forwards to several years later in the 1960s when Kurt and Elizabeth decide to flee to West Germany where Kurt pursues his art career by entering a very avant-garde modern art academy in the liberal city of Dusseldorf. Vividly capturing the life of an artist, the talented filmmaker does an excellent job of taking the time to show the specific steps that Kurt uses in order to finally discover his own artistic style and medium. Overall, I found it to be a truly extraordinary cinematic experience that quite effectively weaves together a story of tragedy, past sins, forgiveness, love, creativity, and freedom against the backdrop of the very trying times of Germany and is very able to remain enthralling throughout despite its more than three hour runtime.

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