Reviewed for Shockya.com by Abe Friedtanzer
Director: Eric Warin and Tahir Rana
Writer: Erik Rutherford and David Bezmozgis
Voice Cast: Keira Knightley, Brenda Blethyn, Jim Broadbent, Sam Claflin, Eddie Marsan, Helen
McCrory, Sophie Okonedo, Mark Strong, Pippa Bennett-Warner
Screened at: Critics’ link, NY, 9/19/21
Opens: September 13th, 2021 (Toronto International Film Festival)
Any artist leaves a mark on the world that can be felt long after they’re gone. Different formats and disciplines invite different approaches, and it is possible for someone who creates not to leave much of themselves behind in the finished product. But others define themselves by their style and the way in they hold a paintbrush or whatever tool they choose to create their art. In her short life of only twenty-six years, Charlotte Salomon made a distinct impression as a painter as the world around her was crumbling.
Growing up in Berlin, Charlotte’s future looked promising, with her artistic ideals set to be fulfilled by the schooling that her wealthy parents could afford. Yet her identity as a Jewish woman made that all but impossible, with new decrees passed to ban Jews from nearly every aspect of everyday life. Fleeing to the south of France, Charlotte was forced to carve out a new existence, one that found her painting an expressionist autobiography made up of almost one thousand gouache pieces, all before her untimely death at the age of twenty-six in a concentration camp in Auschwitz.
This film tells its story using animation, which proves to be an interesting and effective choice. Recreating Charlotte’s many works was surely no easy task, but they come to new vibrant life in this setting as Charlotte’s own life unfolds around their fabrication. There is an enhanced meaning to the way that she paints because she herself is being animated by others, with careful attention paid to the visual style employed in the film to tell the story of someone who surely would have brought her own unique eye to the realization of her biography and her work.
This is not a film for children, even though it depicts a protagonist who did not live much beyond her teenage years. It follows previous animated productions like Loving Vincent that showcase artists known particularly for the innovative and game-changing way in which they came to their crafts, and utilize animation as a method of engagement, sparing no dramatic plot point in a format that is, more often than not, directed at younger audiences.
Charlotte is in good company with another film selected for the Special Presentations selection at the Toronto International Film Festival, Where Is Anne Frank. Both spotlight a subject frequently featured in film – the Holocaust – but one which is not often presented using animation. As a way to honor Charlotte’s legacy as a skilled painter who could surely have done so much more has she not been killed by the Nazis at a young age, this film succeeds, but it also serves as an important continued focus on her era to ensure that audiences today are able to conceive of the scope and horror of the Holocaust. Any reasonable viewer will see the unimaginable nature of Charlotte’s situation, and how much more remarkable it is that she was able to achieve so much in spite of that.
Those with an appreciation for art will likely find added meaning in this film, which spends a good deal of time sitting with the impact of Charlotte’s work. The text and images shown as the story comes to a close are particularly poignant, paying tribute to Charlotte’s incredible output in a way that truly appreciates her talent. It’s affirming to see someone who could easily have been forgotten celebrated in such a manner, and the animation helps to keep the focus on her visual world rather than on dialogues or sets. By its end, it feels like an appropriate and emphatic way to honor a true visual artist.
Story – B+
Voice Acting – B+
Technical – A-
Overall – B+