Keira Knightley Voices German Jewish Artist In History’s Crosshairs

In a better world, the animated feature “Charlotte,” about a prolific young Jewish painter who was murdered in the Holocaust, wouldn’t seem so uncomfortably immediate and timely in the 21st century.

But behold, with hateful rhetoric on the rise in political discourse and marginalized groups once again demonized and legislated. Tahir Rana and Éric Warin’s sensitive biopic of Charlotte Salomon reminds us of the many disturbing parallels in Germany during the decade leading up to World War II.

If “Charlotte” is not the first film to approach this tragic time, it nevertheless offers a sober and effective drama.

Charlotte Salomon, voiced by Keira Knightley, is a young girl coming of age between the wars, with a flair for painting that leads her to one of Germany’s top art schools. Her talent and her father’s war record make her an exception to the school’s rule against accepting Jewish students, and her expressionist style runs almost anarchically against the work of her peers who receive the praise from the state.

Charlotte’s early romance with Alfred Wolfsohn (Mark Strong) fuels her artistic and romantic passions, and the unfortunate conclusion of their date coincides with her parents’ decision to help her escape Germany, the sending to live with his grandparents in the estate of a wealthy socialite in France. Ottilie Moore (Sophie Okonedo) has taken in as many refugees as she could, including the sensitive and scarred Alexander Nagler (Sam Claflin), but as soon as Charlotte arrives she’s forced to leave and take care of her grown-ups on her own. – elderly parents.

Keira Knightley will star in True Story

Grosspapa (Jim Broadbent) and Grossmama (Brenda Blethyn) are a sad story in themselves. A heartbreaking incident soon leads Charlotte to a shocking discovery of her family’s history of mental illness as well as an equally unsettling choice to make regarding her own future with her grandfather. Meanwhile, Germany is on the move, and time is running out, Charlotte desperately tries to tell both her life story and that of her family, through more than 750 paintings, a task that consumes her. .

The screenplay by David Bezmozgis (“Orphan Black”) and Erik Rutherford is a relatively simple account of Solomon’s life, guiding the audience through all the main points with efficiency and sometimes a bit of beauty. “Charlotte” is unafraid to confront the more morally complicated aspects of Solomon’s biography, although in an apparent attempt to keep the film in good taste, some of the horrors endured by Solomon and his family are so well guarded off-screen that their impact is, one might say, diminished a bit.

The decision to tell Solomon’s story in animation makes a lot of thematic sense, since the artist herself is committed to telling a complex autobiographical story through her own paintings. It’s strange, then, that so little of Salomon’s exciting and distinct style comes to cinematic life during “Charlotte.” While we see her paintings as she crafts them, so little of the film incorporates Solomon’s material into its aesthetic, one can’t help but wonder if the medium is being used to its fullest. In live-action, perhaps the film’s many stark visual performances could have been read with more subtlety (although the decision to let the largely British cast keep their own accents would no doubt be distracting in any which size).

Warin (“Leap!”) and Rana’s biopic portrays the life of Charlotte Salomon with incredibly thick brushwork and far fewer nuances than the artist’s own work, which tells the same story. The film’s stylistic and narrative cleanliness can’t help but feel like a missed opportunity, but the sweep of Solomon’s life has undeniable power anyway. Watching this inspiring young woman endure and create powerful works of art in the face of mounting oppression and ultimately untold horrors can only be seriously impactful.

Above all, the importance of creating art that illustrates the evils of hate, as that evil grips an alarming number of people, emerges vibrantly with every scene. “Charlotte” may not make the most of her material, but what she dares to tackle, she does successfully, and sadly, and memorably.

“Charlotte” opens in U.S. theaters April 22.

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