This is an ambitious and epic film – over three hours in the telling.

Director/writer Florian Henckel von Donnersmark (The Lives of Others) covers three decades of German history from 1937 inspired by real events in the life of Gerhard Richter, one of the most important artists of our time.

Six year old Kurt Barnet shows talent in drawing (Cai Cohrs as the boy, Tom Schilling as the man). He is taken to an exhibition of “Degenerate Art” (650 works of art which the Nazi regime confiscated from German museums because they did not conform to Nazi ideals) by his young, beautiful and eccentric aunt Elizabeth (Saskie Rosendahl) who tells him “never look away, everything that is true holds beauty in it.”

She is later diagnosed as a schizophrenic and genetically inferior, taken away by Nazi officials, sterilized, and eventually sent to her death in a gas chamber by Professor Carl Seeband (a chilling Sebastian Koch), a high ranking doctor in the SS. 

Kurt’s artistic career begins as a signwriter, then he studies painting at a Dresden art school where Nazi ideas of social realism are the only form of expression.

He meets and falls in love with Ellie Seeband (Paula Beer – Ellie is a nickname for Elizabeth) and has success as a painter making murals of heroic workers and portraits of bureaucrats. They marry in spite of the fact that her father considers Kurt genetically inferior. 

After the war Seeband is protected by a Russian officer who owes him a favour. He embraces the socialist ideology of East Germany and records of his crimes against humanity are destroyed.

Two months before the Berlin wall is erected they leave for West Germany where Kurt is free of artistic restraint and struggles to express himself. Eventually he develops a new artistic language projecting images and tracing them onto canvas, painting the image, then blurring it with brushstrokes or squeegees. Photorealism makes him famous.

Donnersmark spent many weeks with Richter researching background for his third feature film.  (Richter’s aunt was murdered by the Nazis, and research in 2002 has shown that his father-in-law was responsible for the sterilization of 900 women).Tom Schilling’s ability to draw and paint is convincing. Caleb Deschanel does a fine job of the cinema photography and Max Richter put together a great soundtrack. 

Editing of about 30 minutes would have helped. The naked love scenes – perhaps a little too much eye candy.

Gerhard Richter went on to paint abstract expressionism and work with glass sculpture. He is now aged 87 and one of the most celebrated living artists. His works sell for millions of dollars.

He is quoted as saying “Picturing things, taking a view, is what makes us human; art is making sense and giving shape to that sense. It is like the religious search for God”.                       

189 minutes.

German language, sub-titled in English.

Showing at Luna, Leederville, Luna SX, Fremantle and Windsor Theatre, Nedlands from 20 June.

Watch the trailer…

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