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June 21, 2022



Eric Warin & Tahir Rana - 2021
Good Deed Entertainment BD Region A

Charlotte Salomon (1917 - 1943) was a German-Jewish artist whose collection of 769 autobiographical paintings are grouped under the title Live? Or Theater. The paintings were gouache on paper, with people reminiscent in the style of Marc Chagall. Some of the paintings are combined with autobiographic text. Most of the artwork was done between 1941 and 1943, when Salomon was permitted a visa to stay with her grandparents in Nice, France. Salomon died in Auschwitz in 1943.

This is the second film about Charlotte Salomon, but the first to get wide distribution. There is a 1981 Dutch-German film that includes Derek Jacobi in the cast. This time, Charlotte Salomon's story has been recreated as an animated film with Keira Knightley's participation as the main selling point. What is troubling is that while the life of the artist is worth telling, I am not convinced that an animated film, or at least this animated film, is the best way of recounting her art and life. There is also the question of use of well known actors providing voices for animated films. Does the use of Knightley, Jim Broadbent, Brenda Blethyn, etc. provide greater gravity for the film or bring about more attention, unlike an adult skewing animated film like Flee? Does it matter that the only Jewish actor of the well known names, Sophie Okonedo, provides the voice for voice for a non-Jewish character?

Even with a Wikipedia biography, it is obvious that some of the harsher aspects of Salomon's life have been smoothed out or completely ignored. I can accept that there will be some fictionalization and encapsulation of events. One might even argue that we do not need to see how vicious Nazis were toward Jews in public because it is common knowledge. That depression and suicide seemed to be family traits is only superficially addressed. And while Salomon's murder of her grandfather is depicted, the motivation is elided, with those only knowing the history from this film to assume Salomon was unhappy taking care of a demanding old man, rather than a family member whom it is suggested had sexual interest in his granddaughter. Animated films have explored various subject matter such as war, racism and sexuality, in some cases made primarily for an adult audience. It would seem that Charlotte Salomon's story was softened, with the filmmakers aiming to make the film marginally family friendly.

The blu-ray comes with several short supplements. One features the directors explaining the process in which they made the film. The producer, Knightley and several voice cast members briefly share what they hope is their sense of inspiration. This is a film made with the best of intentions and that may be why Charlotte is not quite the film it could, or definitely should be. Ultimately, its characters are as flat and two-dimensional as they are rendered here.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at June 21, 2022 06:25 AM