Never Look Away

by Frank J. Avella

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday May 22, 2019

Never Look Away

Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar for his extraordinary Stasi-exposing work, "The Lives of Others," in 2006. Four years later he made his English-language debut with the ridiculously maligned Angelina Jolie/Johnny Depp romance-thriller "The Tourist" (it wasn't a masterpiece, but it wasn't crap either). It took him almost a decade to lick his wounds and return to cinema. And it was worth the wait.

With "Never Look Away," Donnersmarck has fashioned an epic yet intimate tale about the transcendent nature of art, spanning several decades and delving into the infrequently-probed world of post-WW2 survival for Germany's ordinary citizens. The film received a deserved 2018 Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film (sadly losing to "Roma.")

Donnersmarck based his narrative on the life of real-life painter Gerhard Richter (and the topsy-turvy relationship between director and "subject" is worthy of its own film). The 'fictionalized' protagonist, Kurt Barnert (a perfectly enigmatic Tom Schilling) is haunted by the cruel murder of his mentally ill aunt (Saskia Rosendahl) and has grown up amidst the fall of the Third Reich into a confused Germany, in the Eastern communist sector. Barnert falls in love with classmate Ellie (Paula Beer), a privileged young woman whose famous doctor father (Sebastian Koch, chilling) hides a horrific secret. Together they flee to the west.

To say too much more would ruin the many pleasures this sumptuous, loving and mesmerizing film has to offer — although I have to admit to wanting more from the final reel. I was truly captivated by every second of the 189-minute running time, but the film's serendipitous moments of devastating history meeting true art and notions of forgiveness could have packed a more powerful punch.

The writer-director loves to include many scenes of his pretty actors naked, whether having sex or simply and naturally being nude. It's a tonic to the oh-so-sadly-prudish American-made films we see lately.

And a shoutout to Oliver Masucci who plays Kurt's art professor: He delivers a wonderful performance that simultaneously mostly eschews stereotype while also strangely satirizing it. "You're the only one who knows if it's good or not," he tells his class after demanding no one ask him to look at their work.

"Never Look Away" is gorgeously shot by Caleb Deschanel (he received his 6th Oscar nomination this year for this film), and the stunning camerawork simply beguiles via this Blu-ray presentation. As much as it is most definitely a big screen movie, it works as well in a smaller HD presentation — just don't do yourself a disservice and watch the digital version on an iPad!

There is one special feature: A fascinating Q&A with the ebullient and verbose Donnersmarck, where he discusses the film's genesis and ultimate realization.

"Never Look Away"
Blu-ray, DVD & Digital

Frank J. Avella is a film and theatre journalist and is thrilled to be writing for EDGE. He also contributes to Awards Daily and is the GALECA East Coast Rep. Frank is a recipient of a 2019 International Writers Retreat Residency at Arte Studio Ginestrelle (Assisi, Italy), a 2018 Bogliasco Foundation Fellowship, a 2016 Helene Wurlitzer Residency Grant and a 2015 NJ State Arts Council Fellowship Award. He is an award-winning screenwriter and playwright (CONSENT, LURED, SCREW THE COW, FIG JAM, VATICAN FALLS) and a proud member of the Dramatists Guild.