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The Crack Magazine



Directors: Tahir Rana, Éric Warin

Featured voices: Keira Knightley, Jim Broadbent, Sam Claflin, Sophie Okenedo, Brenda Blethyn

This animated biopic charts the life and career of Charlotte Salomon, a German-Jewish artist who came of age on the eve of the Second World War, who is chiefly remembered for producing an autobiographical series of works called Leben? oder Theater? (Life? Or Theatre?). Salomon (voiced by Keira Knightley) was born to a wealthy Berlin family. Her father was a surgeon, her stepmother a classical singer. Her mother committed suicide when Charlotte was eight, although her father kept the truth from her. In 1936 Charlotte is one of the few Jewish students admitted to the United School for Pure and Applied Art. ‘That is what I call degenerate art’ she jokes about kitsch Nazi paintings on display to a fellow student. By 1938, Third Reich policies mean Charlotte is unable to attend school and after her father is sent to a concentration camp (but is miraculously returned home later), the family despatches Charlotte to the South of France to live with her grandparents: gruff bad-tempered grandfather (Broadbent) and depressed grandmother (Blethyn). At a neighbouring country estate, owned by wealthy and kind American patron Ottile Moore (Okenedo), Charlotte begins the Leben series of paintings, comprised of some 769 individual pieces, expressionist in style and replete with dialogue and texts. As voiced by Knightley, Charlotte is an admirably headstrong and forthright figure, undeterred by romantic disappointment, but, given the Leben project has inspired some to hail Salomon as the first graphic novelist, and that her pictures are so vibrant and bursting with ideas, the deployment of traditional nicely-rendered but unremarkable animation to recount her life, feels like a wasted opportunity.. Short sequences of her pictures gradually taking shape in animated washes of colour suggest what might have been. An epilogue, in which we discover the fate of the family via a surprisingly frank filmed interview, is very moving.

David Willoughby

Follow David on Twitter @DWill_Crackfilm

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