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Young artist Kurt Barnert (Tom Schilling) has fled to West-Germany, but he continues to be tormented by the experiences he made in his childhood and youth in the Nazi years and during the GDR-regime. When he meets the student Ellie (Paula Beer), he is convinced that he has met the love of his life and begins to create paintings that mirror not only his own fate, but also the traumas of an entire generation.Written by
Wiedemann & Berg Film
The movie is loosely based on the life of Gerhard Richter. It begins before the Second World War, when his aunt, Saskia Rosendahl, is diagnosed as schizophrenic. She is consigned by Sebastian Koch, to be sterilized and sent to a hospital for the useless, and eventually killed. Meanwhile her nephew grows up in a life of incidents, until he is played by Tom Schilling. He gets a scholarship to the local art institute (in the Communist zone), where he is forced to create Soviet Realistic art and meets Paula Beer and they fall madly in love. She is coincidentally the daughter of Herr Professor Koch, who is doing just fine, thank you; he operates on his daughter to abort a baby, thinking this will wreck the romance. It does no such thing of course, and when Koch has to flee to the West, eventually his daughter and son-in-law follow. Schilling lies about his age and enrolls in an art school there, but he cannot find a style or subject that satisfies him.
It satisfies most criteria for a Best Foreign Movie Oscar. It's more than three hours long, spans almost thirty years and has many striking images, thanks to the Best-Cinematography-nominated camerawork of Caleb Deschanel.
Looking at it coolly, it's self-indulgent in its length. With an eye to making this a work that won't strain the audience's bladders, however, I think that what can best be left out are several sequences of Deschanel's "beauty shots": the bombing of Dresden, with the preliminary bombardment of tin foil; the sequences where Schilling runs through a wheat field to tell his father that he doesn't have to be an artist; and others like those. Yet, even though they do not connect to the story in any meaningful way, I find it unlikely the movie would have achieved both nominations without them. Likewise, we are treated to three major exhibitions of art: a lecture on banned art, which do not serve the purpose of the German volk, exhortations at the first school that art must serve the cause of Socialism, and a long tour through the second school that tells Schilling and the audience about the state of Modern Art in the 1960s, which raised many a chuckle in the audience. In the end, Schilling's successful art anticipates "Art as Curation."
The only villain in the show is Koch, a Vicar-of-Bray character who coldly does whatever he must to succeed, and causes his own eventual failures. Always the nasty Nazi, he's a character whose woes we can take pleasure in. He provides -- along with the cynical art commentary -- a constant sour comedy that brightens this tale of frustration and eventual triumph. That and the fine performances and Deschanel's brilliant camerawork.
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