Never Look Away

Mar 5, 2019

It deserves its Oscar nomination. Great biopic.

Never Look Away

Grade: A

Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

Screenplay: von Donnersmarck

Cast: Tom Schilling, Sebastian Koch

Rating: R

Runtime: 3 hr 9 min

By: John DeSando

“Everything that is true is beautiful.” Kurt Barnert (Tom Schilling)

Never Look Away is a truly beautiful film, catching the biography of fictional artist Kurt Barnet (truly a veiled biopic of renowned contemporary German artist Gerhard Richter). Unlike most artist bios, this one lets you breathe in the Nazi repression and post-war liberation without forgetting Kurt is struggling to find his voice amidst crushing oppression and daunting liberation.

As a young, talented boy watching the abduction of his beloved Aunt Lisabeth (Saskia Rosendahl), Kurt suffers subsequent humiliations before he arrives as an artist moving from social realism favored by the socialists, communists, and Soviet Union to photographic realism, to abstraction and combinations therein favored by the world. To be expected, the memory of his aunt informs almost every major decision of his short life as an unknown young man.

The film, a nominee from Germany for foreign Oscar, is most exciting not when he courts his wife or faces down the Nazis, but when he discovers his voice. It is gratifying to watch the slow process and feel a part of his discoveries. Most artist biopics miss giving that intimate sense of the creative process although in the end the artist is never fully explained even here. That’s also what gives such a thrill—the realization that the gift is from someplace unknowable because it goes beyond ordinary human understanding.

Never Look Away is writer/director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s gift to us of drama and insight, three absorbing hours that seem but an hour. Barely time enough to get to know genius. My gift to you is a short review, so you can spend the time on a timeless movie.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at