Never Look Away Review - Breathtaking, Four Stars, Oscar Worthy

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Never Look Away, from Sony Pictures Classics, brings to the screen two unforgettable journeys, one of the inner awakenings of the artist and the second of love, a purity of pleasure, emerging after the darkness of Hitler’s Germany.

Directed and written by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Never Look Away stars Tom Schilling, Paula Beer, Sebastian Koch, Ina Weisse, Saskia Rosendahl, Olivier Masucci, Hanno Koffler, Jorg Schuttauf, Jeanette Hain, and Lars Eidinger.

Never Look Away begins during a museum tour as Elizabeth May, played by Saskia Rosendahl, has brought her young nephew Kurt, played by Cai Cohrs, to the modern art museum in Dusseldorf. The tour is led by Heiner Kersten, played by Lars Eidinger. They see the works of the art world’s masters and hear the pronouncements of the mental states of these whose work is lauded by all.


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Elizabeth, a beauty, is a member of Hitler’s youth. She is chosen to give flowers to the Fuhrer. The experience trips her already delicate mental state. She begins to act irrationally and injuries herself. The self-inflicted wounds needs medical care.

By this time the Fuhrer had already informed all physicians to weed out those who were inferior. Elizabeth’s behavior was a signal and no matter the pleadings of her family she was taken to an institution.

She is transferred to a medical hospital where she meets Professor Carl Seeband, a gynecologist dedicated to the principals of the Third Reich. Women who exhibit mental instability are forced into sterilization.

Kurt, played now by Tom Schilling, has lived out the war with his family on a farm on the outskirts of Dusseldorf. Finally, the war reaches into their small oasis and the Kurt’s two uncles are drafted. His father, Johann, played by Jorg Schuttauf, who resists, in spirit, the Reich’s philosophies. His wife, Waltraunt, played by Jeannette Hain, explains it will be his capital after the war is over.

As the war ends, Kurt is continuing to develop as an artist and everyone who sees his work, urges him and when he shrugs off the encouragements his boss orders him off to art school. Soon he is developing, seeing the world through the eyes of artist, of abstract enlightenments, personal epiphanies, inspirations through nature leave him with an intuitive assurance.


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One afternoon as he is drawing, a friend runs into he room and explains a fashion student is giving away American pencils. It is a rare find in the bombed out city to find the luxuries of proper tools. Bounding up the stairs he is last in line, as we meet Ellie Seeband, played by Paula Beer, a fashion design student.

Taken immediately, Kurt of course needed to distinguish himself, which he does and soon she allows him to walk her home.

This is where Never Look Away moves into the Post War second act. The atrocities of World War II are, theoretically over, as the two fall deeply and irreversibly for each other. The light of a new day unfettered by the shackles of the past, by the tragedies of war, is awakening washing the lovers in promise of a lifetime of tomorrows.

Never Look Away, covers thirty years and presents an epic odyssey of discovery, of love, of beauty and conversely in the beginning we see death, destruction, loneliness and the unknown. As the deconstruction of life through war essentially creates hallow shells, the survivors are ready for a new day, for the unknown to provide the path.


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The film becomes an unexplainable journey of beauty, the missed moments forgotten, as we move into the second act, we voyeuristically watch the two fall deeper with new defining moments and decisions.

A brilliant cast, there is an emotional investment in the characters. Each of those who made choices during World War II are challenged coping with them. The heinous slaughters of the Third Reich are not hidden. The past, we see, is never that far enough in the rear view that it can’t catch up just as one thinks life has forgotten.

The film spans the two most challenging events in Germany’s modern history, obviously World War II and the building of the Berlin Wall and the price of life and freedom in modern times.

This film is deeply engaging and intimate, I wanted to keep the experience of the film to myself. The beauty, the depth of emotion, of the strength love infuses into the characters. The lovers express profound, intense, overwhelming, emotions.


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Never Look Away is playing in select cities. It is in German with English subtitles. The running time is 188minutes. See it.

For those in Los Angeles, Never Look Away will be presented without cost on Friday, January 18, 2019 at Los Angeles County Museum of Arts (LACMA).

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