Never Look Away review – epic but uneven melodrama inspired by Gerhard Richter | Drama films

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With his Oscar-winning debut The Lives of Others in 2006, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck made an important movie about the intellectual squalor of postwar East Germany, featuring a Stasi spy whose life of bugging and listening-in betrays his own emotional bankruptcy – and that of an entire ideology. But Donnersmarck’s following film was the lacklustre caper The Tourist starring Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp in 2010. Now here is his third film, Werk Ohne Autor (that is: Work Without Author – although it has been assigned the English title Never Look Away) which received Oscar nominations for best foreign film and best cinematography.

It’s an unevenly acted and sometimes frankly misjudged sexy-sentimental melodrama of epic length set in Germany of the 1930s, 40s, 50s and 60s, based on the life of the artist Gerhard Richter, and inspired by the eerie, tragic coincidences in Richter’s family background, which he appeared to intuit in his work before actually finding out about them in later life. The fictionalisation makes all this look like a solemn and interminable TV movie.

Tom Schilling plays Kurt, a young German artist who finally achieves success with paintings derived from what are avowedly anonymous snapshots and photo booth pictures: the press hails a new authorless aesthetic. But these images are, in fact, deeply embedded in his own memories – images of a beautiful, troubled aunt who set him on the road to his vocation when he was a boy back in prewar Germany, and of his overbearing, sinister father-in-law, played by Sebastian Koch (who was the careerist author in The Lives of Others).

Never Look Away is not without ambition and reach, and there is a real storytelling impulse. But the central performance of Schilling looks shruggingly uncertain, as if he is bemused by what is going on. And the scene at the beginning, showing the Nazi regime’s gassing of mentally disabled young women as a tastefully tragi-romantic curtain-raiser for all the drama to come, is misconceived. There is an interesting cameo at the beginning from Lars Eidinger as the hatchet-faced Nazi functionary who gives conducted tours of the national exhibition of “degenerate art”, complete with acid commentary.

Source: The Guardian
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