Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Talent: Tom Schilling, Sebastian Koch, Paula Beer
Released: 5 July
After a calamitous tenure in Hollywood (see 2010’s The Tourist), Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck returns to the scene of his masterstroke The Lives of Others (2006). Working within a similar timeline, Never Look Away is a lengthy romance smothered in a great deal of historical drama with an artist, roughly based on the life of Gerhard Richter, at the heart of it all.
Before the Berlin Wall and Cold War backdrop of his college years, the film begins with our budding young painter Kurt Barnert (played later on with blue-eyed purity by Tom Schilling) as a child in Nazi-era Germany. The memory of his young aunt being carted off to an SS sterilization facility, never to be seen again, haunts him. Years later, while in a relationship with his wife to be, he will meet the director of said facility, Professor Carl Seeband (played with icy intensity by Sebastian Koch), under very different circumstances.
The progression from Barnert’s/Richter’s early years in Dresden to his social realist painting in East Berlin, through a number of failed experiments in Düsseldorf, until he finds his niche is absolutely fascinating. Attention to artistic vision, and sheer determination, is covered in such minute fashion and remains enthralling. The close-ups of shading, the wet and dry brushstrokes and the slight alterations with a stylus as the pictures slowly come together is utterly seductive. Timeframe wise, Never Look Away falls short of documenting Richter’s complete disavowal of everything figurative and photo-realist, and his eventual move into abstract art, which is a pity, but perhaps that’s a story for another film.
Between the wonderfully rendered artistic processes and the devastating historical backdrop that shrouds every character in the film, Never Look Away is just that; hard to look away from. Engaging and emotionally affecting, you won’t even notice the three hours go by.
Words: Shane O’Reilly