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film review

Tom Schilling as Kurt Barnert in Never Look Away.Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Never Look Away

Written and directed by: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

Starring: Tom Schilling, Paula Beer and Sebastian Koch

Classification: R; 168 minutes


2 out of 4 stars

Inspired by the real painter Gerhard Richter, this fictional drama alternates between an East German artist struggling through the Cold War and a Nazi eugenicist hiding in plain sight. As a sensitive child, Kurt witnesses his eccentric young aunt shipped off to a Nazi hospital, never to be seen again. He grows up to become a frustrated socialist realist in East Germany and then a confused modernist in the West, while discovering that his father-in-law has a hidden Nazi past.

Cai Cohrs plays young Kurt Barnert.Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

The film, Germany’s successful entry into the Academy Awards’ foreign-language category, covers 35 years of history yet doesn’t fully justify its three-hour length. Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, who won the foreign-language Oscar in 2006 for The Lives of Others, emphatically plays out every scene and often repeats himself. The link between the two plots relies on a melodramatic coincidence that he sets up and then oddly declines to exploit.

As Kurt finds his true art in the West, thanks to the help of a fictional version of Joseph Beuys, the film turns gripping, but it ultimately reduces art appreciation to the autobiographical.

Schilling, left and Paula Beer as Ellie Seeband in Never Look Away.Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Never Look Away opens Feb. 22 in Toronto and Vancouver