The German nominee from this year’s Oscars Never Look Away delivers a look into the life of artist Kurt Barnert and his life haunted by a childhood raised in the shadow of the Nazi uprising. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (The Lives of Others, which beat Pan’s Labyrinth in the foreign language award in 2006) expands upon artistic expression and the search for truth while discovering Barnert’s connection to his Nazi doctor father-in-law. Tom Schilling as the artist is more handsome than engaging, but Paula Beer (Frantz) as his wife Ellie is adoring and strong without substantial material granting her own story outside of repeated miscarriages. Sebastian Koch as her monstrous and a source to Kurt’s endless sadness steals ample focus for his repeated luck avoiding his co-monsters’ fates. The film is lovely but a bit bloated; it flew by but is not particularly memorable. The roots of the title links to Barnert’s aunt, an early influence before her institutionalization, and her instruction to never look away from the truth, because what is real is beautiful. Barnert ponders this issue while producing socialist realism, escaping to West Berlin, and finding his artistic position in an art world that has abandoned traditional painting.
Caleb Deschanel received his sixth cinematography nomination for his lush use of color and firm framing, though I would have preferred First Man swapped its production design nomination for this film’s high ceiling art schools and decimated city blocks. Certainly my least favorite of either set of its nominations, Never Look Away is best enjoyed for those missing 80s epics with strong The King’s Speech vibes.