This is the Best Foreign Language Film nominee out of Germany. This is better than the movie that’s going to win the Oscar (Roma). It’s also better than a few of the other nominees (Cold War, Capernaum); but two better foreign films strangely didn’t even get a nomination: Burning, out of Korea and The Guilty out of Denmark (which almost made my Top 10 of the year).
Writer/director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (say that name five times fast) has gotten some attention for his movies The Tourist and The Lives of Others (which won him an Oscar). This film is a bit clunky, and way longer than it needed to be. I thought the Burning was long at two and a half hours. This was over three hours. Of course, it’s the perfect vehicle for Oscar voters. If it weren’t for all the Roma love, this would probably win. It has Nazis, and lots of pretentious conversations about truth, artistic freedom, the government, etc. That’s right up the voters’ alley.
Kurt Barnert is a youngster with a hippy aunt (Saskia Rosendahl) who takes him to art galleries and shows him paintings that the Nazis claim are bad. We get to see lots of Kandinsky pieces and interesting sculptures. Kurt also gets to see her do some wacky things like standing in front of numerous buses that turn on their headlights and start to honk their horns. I suppose that’s to show us what a free spirit she is.
After an incident in which she’s selected to give a bouquet of roses to Hitler, she has a bit of a mental breakdown. That leads to her playing the piano naked in front of young Kurt, before smashing an ashtray into her head. She tells Kurt to “never look away” and…she’s quickly taken away.
She’s interviewed by a Dr. Carl Seeband (Sebastian Koch). He’s in charge of sterilizing or killing women that they feel could poison the Aryan gene pool. That leads to a scene that’s one of the most powerful you’ll see all year. A woman with Down Syndrome is being led to the showers to be gassed, while not having a clue what’s about to happen to her.
We see Kurt get older (played by Tom Schilling), and he’s a talented artist living under Soviet rule in Dresden. He and another art student vie for the affections of Ellie (Paula Beer). He makes her an ashtray and wins her heart. Not sure if he made it out of a magazine so if she starts bashing it into her head like his aunt, it won’t be as bad.
There’s going to be a connection that these two have, that’s not hard to figure out as you’re watching the film (but I won’t spoil it here).
When Kurt meets her parents, the mom seems to like him (despite the fact that she catches him sneaking out of Ellie’s bedroom window one night). The dad isn’t as fond of him, despite the fact that he has him paint a portrait of him that he digs.
Eventually, they venture to the west. And the 3rd act really goes off the rails.
The movie has some great acting. It’s also had Oscar-nominated cinematographer Caleb Deschanel doing a splendid job, as well as Max Richter giving us a lovely, string-filled score.
It’s just so predictable and contrived, and uneven.
Even the critics that like this movie are all saying it’s “exhausting” and “too long.”
2 stars out of 5.