Never Look Away
Starring Tom Schilling, Sebastian Koch, Paula Beer, Saskia Rosendahl
What is this mysterious foreign film nominated for the best cinematography Oscar? This German entry has landed many of the early foreign film awards alongside the more popular entries “Roma” and “Cold War.” “Never Look Away” is directed by Oscar winner Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, who took home the foreign film prize back in 2006 for “The Lives of Others.” His three hour and nine minute, unnecessarily long drama “Never Look Away” is a fractured story that suffers from too little editing. Having the opportunity to see a wider sampling of this year’s foreign language submissions, “Never Look Away” is not among those I would single out personally. One hour in and the inter-woven narrative turns into “Sarah’s Key.”
As a young child, Kurt Barnert’s artistic tendencies were encouraged by his young, liberal-minded Aunt Elisabeth (Rosendahl). He watched in horror as his mentally imbalanced aunt was hauled away by the Nazi’s because her genetics were deemed un-pure. “Everything that’s true is beautiful,” she tells him. Years passed, war waged, peace comes, and Kurt (Schilling) resists the idea of pursuing the arts until his passion cannot be contained. That’s when he meets the woman that would change his life forever, Ellie (Beer) whose family unknowingly has an eerie connection to Barnert’s past. Kurt and Ellie face hereditary and financial struggles as they make their mark on a re-emerging Germany that seems unable to escape the atrocities of it’s past.
There is nothing in the storyline of "Never Look Away" that would take over three hours to tell.
Donnersmarck could have taken some cinematic advice from “Atonement’s” structure or “Sarah’s Key” was edited. There is nothing in the storyline of “Never Look Away” that would take over three hours to tell. To its credit, the screenplay never leans into the predictable narratives you might expect. At one point it seems to be a film gearing up for a redemption theme but quickly veers away from those sentiments. It is nearly an hour into the film before the lead character emerges. Halfway through the story, the film becomes trite with family drama and sex scandals. The script often gives us too much visual information, that adds to the running time, that could be explained better verbally instead.
The pretension is great with this one. The story wallows back and forth between an artist coming of age, the tragedies of war and intermittent scenes that feel plucked from a different movie entirely. The overreaching themes of art and ability are ones that many can appreciate and understand, as we watch Kurt struggle to find his voice through painting. I have a real issue with a film that shows events spanning many decades and yet only spends seconds or fleeting minutes in one particular time before rushing off to the chapter. If you can’t come up with more than one setting or sentence in 1948, then combine that small scene with another so the viewer doesn’t feel like they are in a time machine. I am pointing this finger at “Cold War” also, which is even more guilty of this than “Never Look Away.”
"Never Look Away" is an overlong epic drama that’s full of excess instead of necessity.