Direction: Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck
The new film from German filmmaker Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck, who showed capable of the best with The Lives of Others (2006) and the worst with The Tourist (2010), brings together Tom Schilling, Sebastian Koch, and Paula Beer in an epic post-war drama mounted with solid production values, melodramatic brush strokes, and archetypal storytelling. Despite the crowd-pleasing schemes commonly associated with this type of film, Koch gives us some good reasons to keep seated in our chairs and watch it.
The story follows the romance between Kurt Barnet (Schilling), a struggling painting student artistically tied up to the dominant socialist realism of the time, and Ellie Seebrand (Beer), the daughter of a savvy, if unscrupulous, gynecologist and a proud member of the SS medical corps, Professor Carl Seebrand (Koch). It had been the latter who, in 1937 in Dresden, marked Kurt’s mentally-ill aunt, Elizabeth May (Saskia Rosendahl), to be annihilated.
Kurt is admitted in a liberal art school in Dusseldorf but keeps being haunted by memories of a never-to-be-forgotten past. There, he will find an incomparable opportunity to speak with his own voice and build a real life with Ellie. But none of that can be achieved without sacrifice and tolerance, especially with his obnoxious father-in-law in control of their lives.
Donnersmarck drew inspiration from visual artist Gerhard Richter. This is a grand story, yet perhaps too lustrously depicted to work in full. I was never bored, though.