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Never Look Away - review

by Wesley Kirkpatrick

They say “seeing is believing”, nevertheless it would require several lifetimes and countless more viewings for me to believe in what I had the privilege to witness at the Edinburgh Film Festival in June. Words cannot express the way this movie touched me but I will do my best to describe it.

At the end of a public screening at a film festival, the audience will have a tendency to clap. I could never fathom this convention as I’ve always associated clapping with a live performance rather than cinema. However, as the movie came to its conclusion I found myself compelled to join in with the other audience members in what would eventually be a session of applause lasting over a minute.

Never Look Away seemed to provide something that I had yet to experience at the cinema. I had never exited a cinema screening with unequivocal content for the film I had just witnessed, however negligible my issues with the film might have been. In this instance, no criticism came to mind and as I am writing this now I am still incapable of providing any. It is often said that a masterpiece is a piece of art - or any type of work- that has been achieved with such a degree of perfection that it has reached peaks of beauty able to provoke the admiration of all. And as I was sat in that cinema applauding this great work I could not help but consider Never Look Away a masterpiece.

The film is inspired by the real life events of the famous German painter, Gerhard Richter. Kurt Barnert (Tom Schilling) embodies a fictitious portrayal of the artist as his story begins as a child in the 1930s in Dresden and culminates in the 1960s at the apogee of his artistic career. Throughout these three decades, Kurt must overcome the loss of his relatives, the ongoing political issues of the time and a psychopathic father-in-law (Sebastian Koch) as he strives to stamp his mark on both his personal and professional life. At the movie’s core is a forbidden-love tale between Kurt and Ellie (Paula Beer) that is somewhat reminiscent of Jack and Rose’s in Titanic. Their relationship is written with such care and passion that the audience cannot help but root for them despite the significant obstacles and hindrances to which they are subjected. The film’s original German title 'Werk ohne Autor' can be translated into English as “Work without an author”. However, Never Look Away certainly does possess an author and his name is Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. Never Look Away presents itself as his third feature-length film following his stunning directorial-debut The Lives of Others and his disappointing blockbuster The Tourist featuring Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie. However, Florian returns eight years later with what can only be described as his best work to date.

The movie is tremendously well-rounded in every aspect that it becomes easy to overlook certain of its elements that remain truly remarkable such as its score which was composed by Max Richter (composed the soundtrack for films such as Mary Queen of Scots and Waltz with Bashir). The score promises to render its audience speechless and caught up with an enormous rush of emotion.

However, the aspect of the film which has been the most revered has been Caleb Deschanel’s work on its cinematography. Indeed, his work was rewarded with a surprising Academy-Award nomination back in January, surprising not due to the quality of his work but due to the film’s lack of publicity at the time. Nonetheless, it only takes one look at the beauty of this film to understand the Academy’s decision to nominate it.

 Via its enthralling writing and score, Never Look Away pulls at the audience’s emotional strings with such intensity and frequency that it becomes almost impossible to contain one’s emotions in front of such atrocity and beauty unleashed simultaneously. At which point the film truly deserves its name of “Never Look Away” as the audience finds itself drawn to the screen during its entirety despite its lengthy runtime of 189 minutes. Whereas this may discourage reluctant crowds, avid spectators will instead have the opportunity to witness beauty and excellence through the mediums of cinema and art in general.

This movie will inevitably go down as one of the greatest cinematic experiences of my lifetime and I hope that you will not miss up the opportunity to witness Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s masterpiece.


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