Never Look Away

Front Row at the Movies by Shirrel Rhoades

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If you watched the 91st Academy Awards ceremony last Sunday, you know that the German film “Never Look Away” didn’t win any Oscars. But it could have. The film (German title: “Werk ohne Autor,” meaning “Work Without Author”) was nominated in two categories – Best Foreign Film and Best Cinematography.

It lost to “Roma” on both fronts. But that’s a minor detail. To have been nominated as one of five foreign films deemed to be best in the world is no small honor. You will definitely want to see any of the films on that list.

“Never Look Away” was inspired by the life of German painter Gerhard Richter. He does not approve of the film, calling it an “abuse and gross distortion” of his biography.

Some people call Richter “the best living painter.” He is certainly one of the highest paid.

Gerhard Richter has painted both abstracts and photorealistic works, made photographs, produced sculptures, and dabbled with glass creations.

Although media-shy, he was induced in 2007 to appear on camera for the first time in 15 years in a short film called “Gerhard Richter’s Window.” Then came a 2011 documentary titled “Gerhard Richter Painting.”

Now we have a semi-biopic titled “Never Look Away.” It is currently showing at Tropic Cinema.

Directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (“Lives of Others,” “The Tourist”), it tells the fictional story of Kurt Barnert (mainly played by Tom Schilling), an art student in post-war East Germany. We follow Kurt as he falls in love with a fellow student, a girl whose father has a Nazi past. Dr. Carl Seeband (Sebastian Koch) once headed the Dresden women’s clinic. Turns out, it was Dr. Seeband who declared Kurt’s beloved aunt (Saskia Rosendah) a schizophrenic and had her sterilized, then later killed.

Kurt’s view of art had been influenced by his aunt. She took him as a child to a “degenerate art” exhibit in Dresden, telling him, “Never look away because everything that is true holds beauty in it.” (Hence, the title of this movie.)

Dr. Seeband objects to his daughter Ellie (Paula Beer) marrying a poor artist, so he gives her an abortion when she becomes pregnant.

Kurt and his girlfriend flee to the west, where he gets admitted to the famous modern art academy in Dusseldorf.

Struggling to find his personal style, he incorporates a montage of black-and-white photographs into his paintings. When Dr. Seeband recognizes these as photos of Kurt’s aunt and himself during his Nazi years, he realizes the connection between them … even though Kurt hasn’t.

What’s a Nazi war criminal to do?

Kurt’s childhood memories enable his success as a painter. But where does that leave his new wife and her father?

Don’t be put off by the film’s 3 hours and 8 minutes running time. It’s well worth it.

“Never Look Away” asks artists “what is their truth, and how they are able to reveal it.”

Gerhard Richter faced a similar life of “turbulence and success” – including the forced institutionalization of his aunt.

When asked if the role of the artist has changed over the years, Richter replied: “It’s more entertainment now. We entertain people.”

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