‘Never look away’: a film review

Kurt Barnert (Tom Schilling) paints a portrait of as Professor Seeband (Sebastian Koch) in a scene from “Never Look Away.”

Kurt Barnert (Tom Schilling) paints a portrait of as Professor Seeband (Sebastian Koch) in a scene from “Never Look Away.”

 
 

By Tom Jozwik

Published Feb. 14, 2019

“Never Look Away,” directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, is a marathon at 3:08. But the subtitled German-language movie is approximately as good as it is long, continuously captivating due to energetic performances, appropriate background music, competent cinematography, a setting that parallels Germany from its early Nazi days to the early days of its East/West bifurcation—and even (happily) a modicum of comic relief.

As sizable a filmic undertaking as “Never Look Away” is, it manages to focus on three characters: artistically talented couple Kurt Barnert (Tom Schilling) and Ellie Seeband (Paula Beer), and Ellie’s extremely gifted—and excessively arrogant—physician father, who insists on being addressed as “Professor” Seeband (Sebastian Koch).

The 60-ish Professor’s distant past contains a whopping dark secret—and he hasn’t exactly spread an abundance of sunshine in the intervening decades. For one thing, he’s taken pains to torpedo the Kurt-Ellie union, considering Barnert (unquestionably talented though he is as a painter) unworthy to join the Seeband family. Indeed the impeccable and dour doctor contrasts with casual, likable artist Kurt. Perhaps surprisingly, it is Kurt who ultimately engineers the doctor’s comeuppance (at least it seems to be a comeuppance; as a friend recently remarked about foreign films, loose ends tend to remain untied and the audience is left to decide the outcome).

The movie’s title is a piece of advice given the schoolboy Kurt early on by a beloved relative. Flashbacks and Barnert’s modus operandi keep the curious message alive for viewers. 

My grade for “Never Look Away”: A-. I’ll admit to a bit of disappointment at the lack of a definitive resolution and I believe trimming some of the art studio stuff could’ve strengthened the marathon—made it even better than it is long.