Never Look Away

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Never Look Away

The title: Never Look Away. The length: three hours and eight minutes. You plan to skip it? For all that time I never once wanted to leave my chair and the whole film still runs quietly through my mind. Its length is part of the reason. It takes all that time to do for us what writer/director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck intends while painting his portrait of an artist based on a leading German artist, Gerhard Richter.

It is 1933 and the opening scenes set the horrendous tone of Nazi control. In an art gallery tour, the Nazi guide announces which paintings are good and which are bad. Kurt (Cai Cohrs), a small boy, is there with his aunt Ellie who feeds him the message of free expression while they walk through the art show under the shouted instructions of what they are to like or dislike. Ellie’s stream of free thought lands her in the hands of Professor Carl Seband (Sebastian Koch) who is heading the new sterilization program that will deal with unwanted women.

While the country is soaked with Nazi horrors, young Kurt (Tom Schilling) grows up knowing he will be a painter and we in the audience follow his search for his artistic core. The Nazi culture is utterly invasive but Kurt is embedded in his search for how and what he wants to paint.

As history unfolds around him, we in the audience become fascinated with his personal quest. Though the realities of the Nazis abound, we follow Kurt as he searches for the focus of his great talent. He can paint, but what will he paint? That happens only after he moves from the artistically conservative Dresden to Dusseldorf under the prodding of his fellow artist friend.

Even in this city that encouraged freedom, Kurt finally sits in frustration before blank canvases in his frustration at discovering who he is as an artist. He senses a something deep in his core and hasn’t yet discovered what it is. His search becomes our focus. Watching him explore his talent as his emotional tools unfold is thoroughly intriguing in the hands of this fine actor. His father-in-law: “Mozart was dead at 30, and you still don’t know? You’re still a student?”

This is a story of a man in search of what he wants to create with his deep talent and we in the audience have become silent partners in his determination. Tom Schilling’s creation of the artist in search of himself is a thoroughly compelling mystery, deepened by his fine acting and the quiet way he moves through his confusion. It is deeply refreshing to follow an artist who is looking not for fame but to realize himself in the crushing times he and his family have lived through.

Though many intriguing small plots and emotional entanglements abound, we are absorbed by this artist who reaches not for success but to record and explain the destroyed world that surrounds him.

Film Critic : Joan Ellis
Film Title : Never Look Away
Word Count : 501
Running Time: 3:08
Rating : R
Date : 17 February 2019

All Is True

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

All is True

All Is True is the creation of Kenneth Branagh who directed and acts the role of William Shakespeare. Branagh has put his dream on film and the audience has the pleasure of watching without having to measure it for accuracy. Since Shakespeare’s work reaches readers in all kinds of modern interpretations, there is no one right or wrong way to present it. Because no expert can know the cultural details of the 1700s, that becomes a great gift to writers of the following centuries who build worlds from their own imaginations around Shakespeare’s plays.

Actor/director Kenneth Branagh decided to make a film of his version of Shakespeare’s last year on earth – 1613. He has been away from his family and his home town while building fame and fortune through his plays. The natural intelligence of wife Anne (Judi Dench) is wrapped in her indignation at her husband’s neglect of their family. Her resentment is echoed in their youngest daughter Judith (Kathryn Wilder). Son Hamnet died at eleven but because he was a boy in an era when only males counted, resentment boils furiously in Shakespeare’s wife and daughters as they listen to him talk about that dead son.

As Branagh builds his film around Shakespeare’s return to home and family, that obsession with his son casts a major shadow over his relationships with his wife and daughters. When director Branagh decides to rebuild these relationships, we in the audience feel a little as if he is dropping the man/woman culture of 2018 into 1613. Daughter Judith, with reason, is wrapped in resentment at her father’s love of his dead son.

If his story seems too modern at times, his filming is not. When the camera focuses and lingers on the faces of the characters, each shot is held quietly as it takes on the feel of a painting. No electric light was used in filming. Candlelight and daylight form the atmosphere for the unfolding story. The camera work feels rooted in the time.

Both Kenneth Branagh and Judi Dench are able to drop themselves into the past in interesting ways. It is Kathryn Wilder whose acting shoots the film through with the feeling of a modern culture. If that seems unfortunate, hers is a powerful performance and who is any one of us to say what form of resentment of parental neglect might have taken three centuries ago.

Historical accuracy is not the judgement pole here. The fun of it is following Kenneth Branagh’s imagination as he creates his version of a century whose accents and behavior can only be imagined. That fertile ground is tended by a strong cast and wonderfully imaginative filming. A discussion between Shakespeare and the Earl of Southampton (Ian McKellen) is a good example of something that might or might not have happened in that way. It unfolds in the hands of two fine actors who take us there in the light of long ago.

Film Critic : Joan Ellis
Film Title : All Is True
Word Count : 499
Running Time: 1:41
Rating : PG-13
Date : 25 January 2019