The new movie “Never look away” (available on DVD soon) is a moving, beautiful and occasionally overwrought drama that covers the tumultuous years of German history from 1937 to 1966, and spans the period in which Germany was a unified nation under Hitler to its division into East and West, between liberal democracy and Marxism. That said, it is as much a film about personal growth and grief as it is about those tragic years of war and cold war, as much about art as it is about political ideology.
The director, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck is probably best known for the much-acclaimed “The lives of others” (2007), which covered the waning years of communist East Germany and, like “Never look away", showed a world of artists and politicians at odds in the name of artistic freedom.
The new movie is more epic in scope than “The lives of others”, and that is, at a few points, as much of a problem for the film as it is a blessing. When it stays more studiously within the bounds of good storytelling, it is gripping despite its 3 hour running time.
Based on the life of the German painter Gerhard Richter, “Never look away” is not afraid of complex characters who embrace virtue when possible, or who—like the stand-in for the (West) German avant-garde artist Joseph Beuys –seem to exist in a world of purely artistic and elemental ideas and betray a rather alarming naiveté when they contemplate the dark world outside the art school.
As Kurt (aka Gerhard) works his way toward manhood and marriage, he is shadowed by threats from the past, embodied most shockingly by his girlfriend’s father, Carl, who directed a euthanasia program under the Nazis. This element of the haunting past gives the film’s title extra metaphorical power, as looking takes on both artistic and historical overtones.
By film’s end, I found it thoroughly refreshing that the movie refused to give in to the kind of overwhelming dramatic despair that so many contemporary German movies about that era give in to—a tendency that’s understandable, but which sorely needed expanding. “Never look away” gives us hope, and that’s only the beginning of its virtues.
[This film is rated “R” Please see imdb.com for further information.]