Never Look Away is, quite simply, stunning. The German language film is nothing but a collection of great performances, stunning cinematography and completely heart-breaking drama. The film follows the life of an artist, Kurt, beginning in pre-war Germany at an art exhibit he has been taken to as a young boy by the aunt which he completely adores. She is revealed to have mental health issues and being Nazi Germany is taken away to a hospital.
The film does not shy away from any of the trauma that Kurt faces over the thirty-year span that the film takes place over. Quite like the way he reminded by his aunt, in the beginning, to never look away from something and to experience it all as it happens. For instance, we see the effects of the war taking place, from a full death camp shower scene to a British bomb starting a fire in a small girls room. Both scenes take place in a montage early on the film that is particularly hard to watch, yet so well filmed. There is a reason this was nominated (out of nowhere it seemed) for an Oscar in best cinematography. The way the camera moves, the composition of shots add such power to the film and it really pays off, considering the film is about works of art.
The bad luck continues for Kurt all the way through his life, in ways that are almost funny due to just how many terrible things take place. We verge onto spoiler territory (just skip this paragraph) but there are a number of somewhat convenient revelations and events that allow for the story to take place. For instance, the Nazi officer who signed on the aunt to the hospital and then eventually death just so happened to have a daughter, who was near enough the same age, that also looked identical to the aunt.
It surprised me to learn that this film is loosely based on a true story, the artwork is real. The title makes sense in English but the translated German title of “Work without an author” makes even more sense as the pieces of art shown again still work on their own, just as this dramatic story works without the pieces of art to an extent. Despite the lottery analogy given by Kurt throughout the film saying that these are just random photos that speak for themselves without the added context, I can’t help but feel they do work better with this context in this case.
Never Look Away is fantastic, easily one of the best of the festival and quite possibly the year. The stunning performances and cinematography help along with a dramatic and completely heart-breaking tale of loss, love and art that is only slightly let down by the sheer eye-rolling coincidence of the tale. The film deserves all the praise and love it received and continues to receive as it releases around the world, goes to seek it out but please don’t let the three-hour runtime put you off.