Donnersmarck, who’d debuted with the magnificent The Lives of Others, made the sweeping and ambitious historical drama Never Look Away based on the complex and fascinating life of renowned German visual artist Gerhard Richter (though, however, he’d distanced himself on account of the difficult memories it evoked), whose coming-of-age as an individual and self-discovery as an artist paralleled his country’s turbulent history – fascism, war, devastation, and a painful split due to two irreconcilable political ideologies. The film opens with visit to a modern art gallery – young Kurt, in company of his sensuous, unpredictable aunt Eisabeth (Saskia Rosendahl), is transfixed by a Kandinsky painting, while a Nazi official derides the artworks as demented. Before long, he experiences Nazi monstrosity as his psychologically troubled aunt is made to undergo forced sterilization by indoctrinated high-ranking SS doctor Seeband (Sebastian Koch), and put into a gas chamber on the night of the Dresden bombings. Memories of his aunt haunt Kurt throughout his life and her advice – which gave the film its English title, though the German title (viz. ‘Work Without Author’) better captured Richter’s signature style – formed a recurring motif. As an art student and artist (Tom Schilling) in East Germany, he’s compelled into Socialist Realism – though he’s exceptional at it, he longs for a freeform style – and falls for Ellie (Paula Beer), who bears resemblance to his aunt, and, ironically, is the chameleon-like Seeband’s daughter. They escape to West Germany, where, despite the creative freedom, he faces artistic crisis as he struggles to find his inspiration. Despite some popcorn contrivances, the personal elements of the broad-canvased narrative, and, in particular, a chillingly brilliant turn by Koch, made this an evocative watch.
Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Genre: Drama/Historical Drama/Romantic Drama/Biopic