Film of the week: Never Look Away
Cert: Club; selected cinemas
As a young child in Nazi Germany, Kurt is forced to watch as his beloved aunt (Saskia Rosendahl) is taken away to be put to death as part of the Third Reich's programme to weed out the "bad genes" from the Teutonic population.
A lover of visual art, she had instilled in him an eye for matters aesthetic, a visual awareness that Kurt (Tom Schilling) carries with him as he proceeds to East Germany to work as a sign painter before enrolling in an academy to perfect dull socialist realism.
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There, he meets clothes designer Ellie (Paula Beer) and they fall deeply in love. The relationship is initially met with scepticism by Ellie's austere father Carl (Sebastian Koch) who, it transpires, was the very Nazi doctor who presided over the execution of Kurt's aunt all those years ago.
As the years go by, past and present harmonise as Kurt tries to come of age as an artist in a rapidly changing Germany.
After the huge success of his 2006 breakthrough hit The Lives of Others, Cologne writer-director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck continues to rummage through the skeletons in his homeland's cupboard with largely exquisite results. Novelistic in pace and momentum (it comes in at just over three hours), Never Look Away plays heavily on nostalgia and those things we don't know we know.
Based on the extraordinary life of German artist Gerhard Richter, it is also a song to the changing shape of the art world in Germany, from the Nazis' resentment of "degenerate art" (featuring a fine cameo from Lars Eidinger) to the riotous explosion of expression in post-war West Germany that Kurt walks through in one memorable scene.
Crisp and luminous cinematography from Caleb Deschanel is amplified further by Donnersmarck's gorgeous cast led by Schilling and Beer, resulting in one of the most visually arresting film dramas of this year (or any other, for that matter).
Not everyone will agree that it entirely justifies its whopping running time, however.
★★★★ Hilary A White
Spider-Man: Far From Home
Cert: 12A; Now showing
If you're a Marvel fan who hasn't seen Avengers: Endgame, make sure to see it before you hit up Spider-Man: Far From Home. This latest MCU instalment takes place in the aftermath of Endgame and is based, essentially, on a spoiler.
That said, if you just want to enjoy this, you can pick up the story as it has Spidey (Tom Holland) looking for a break. He's just a boy who wants to love a girl (Zendaya) and sees the opportunity to tell her on a school trip to Europe. But it's Marvel, and they don't deal in average school trips so returning Spider-Man director Jon Watts and writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers have our reluctant hero face potentially world-destroying demons called Elementals. Spidey doesn't have to face them alone, there is new hero Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) who has already teamed up with world-saving boss Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson).
There is lots of superhero action but the film feels strangely unlike a superhero movie and therein lies its strength. It is at its best when Peter Parker is himself. Holland is great in the role, Gyllenhaal is his reliable self and it all works really well. ★★★★ Aine O'Connor
Cert: 12A; Preview with Q&A July 13, nationwide July 15
Luciano Pavarotti was the world's best known tenor and in this thorough, emotionally engaging documentary, director Ron Howard and writer Mark Monroe give insight into the man behind the voice.
The film opens with previously unseen footage of his pilgrimage to the Amazonian city of Manaus where Caruso had sung a century before. Then it tells the story chronologically, via a huge array of footage and the accounts of the people in his life. Both his first wife, Adua, and second, Nicoletta, tell their stories and the three daughters he had with Adua speak on camera for the first time about a relationship that was not always easy. Among the many insightful contributions from friends and colleagues, Bono's stands out. Naturally there is plenty of music in this loving portrait of a man who lived his life to the full. An absolute must for fans. ★★★★★ Aine O'Connor
Vita & Virginia
Cert: 15A. Now showing
Virginia Woolf's 1928 novel Orlando: A Biography was a veiled portrait of the life and loves of Vita Sackville-West, a writer and society figure with whom Woolf had a passionate affair.
That relationship is here rendered for the big screen by writer-director Chanya Button and her co-writer Eileen Atkins.
Taking turns in chewing up the scenery are Elizabeth Debicki and Gemma Arterton as Woolf and Sackville-West. The former is toiling away on her writing in 1920s London when the libidinous aristocrat Vita decides to seduce her.
As ever with these things, one person in the couple is bound to lose out, and a consuming element begins to enter their dynamic at the expense of all other considerations.
Button's film suffers from a malady prone to many films about literary icons - there's just too much writing. Nary a moment passes without some exposition that feels too frothy and unmoored for something supposedly set in a real world.
Worse again is the ambient electronic score. Not only is it far too high in the mix but it ruins the otherwise good sense of era. ★★ Hilary A White
The Cold Blue
Cert: 12A; Now showing, limited
Erik Nelson's wonderful feature-length World War II documentary is on limited release at the moment, but it's a gem well worth seeking out if you have even a passing interest in the subject.
The film is compiled from 34 reels of raw colour footage shot by William Wyler and three cinematographers, one of whom was killed in the process, for a documentary about B17 bombers.
Filmed during bombing missions over Germany in 1943 and restored frame by frame, it makes for remarkably vivid images.
However, it is the narration that really brings the project to life. Nine of the surviving pilots talk about what it was like to be in your early 20s, flying missions where the chances of completing the requisite 25 flights was just 25pc, odds one likens to being on death row.
It is a terrible beauty. ★★★★★ Aine O'Connor
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