FILM REVIEW: Never Look Away

Review by Dash Wilson.

At nearly three hours in length and shot entirely in German, one would one be forgiven for never having heard of the final nominated film in this category, Never Look Away.  

Loosely based on Gerhard Richter, one of the twentieth century’s most admired visual artists, the plot follows art student Kurt Barnert, played here by Tom Schilling, in post-war East Germany. Barnert falls in love with fellow student Ellie Seebank (Paula Beer) but her father deftly opposes their relationship. Ellie’s father begins to complicate matters further when his role in the Nazi eugenics program becomes known.

Having sat through many films in my time, this one was a particularly tough watch. Gerhard Richter himself has said that Never Look Away is a grossly distorted adaptation of his biography. Whilst arguably historically inaccurate, the film also moves at such a glacial pace that it borders on unwatchable. Solid performances and a transfixing score help elevate things but for me, Never Look Away just wasn’t worth investing three hours.

Kudos though must go to cinematographer Caleb Deschanel ASC (The Patriot, The Passion of the Christ) whose work here is career best. Shot much like a painting, the film glows with luminous lighting throughout and it is hard not to be impressed by what’s on screen. Interestingly, despite not speaking a word of German himself, Deschanel was drawn to this particular project because – in his own words – when you don’t speak a language, “you end up really looking carefully at people and visual world around them”.

Never Look Away may be an arthouse flop, but with six Oscar nominations and no wins, it may also be Deschanel’s first well-deserved gold.

Reviewing all five films nominated for the Academy Award for Best Cinematography in 2019, Dash Wilson is a film-lover based in Brisbane and is the resident Film Critic for Australian Cinematographer Magazine.

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