Never Look Away: Interview with German Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck made a strong impression with his 2006 drama The Lives of Others, which garnered the Golden Globe and the Oscar for Best Foreign-Language Film.

Unfortunately, in 2010, he was seduced by mainstream Hollywood to direct The Tourist, a silly,  disappointing thriller, starring Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp.

His new film, Never Look Away, which world premiered at the Venice Film Fest, is a drama that spans three turbulent eras of German history, centering on a triangle, made of a young artist, the woman he loves, and the man bent on destroying their relationship.

Never Look Away Vs. The Lives of Others

Florian: “The Lives of Others” explored how a person can be changed by art, and how a person’s life can be impacted by art. In a way, this is a bit of a companion piece and a mirror image in that it explores how all the terrible things that happen in our lives can somehow shape art and how we have this strange, wonderful ability as humans to turn our suffering into something great. It’s almost like alchemy, we can turn the lead of our own trauma into the gold of art.

Inspired by German Artist Gerhard Richter? 
Florian: We used a few elements from Richter’s biography as a starting point, but it’s dramatic fiction. It’s not a biopic. I didn’t want to have to stick to facts because I really believe that good fiction is a lot more thrilling and exciting, a lot more satisfying and somehow even a lot truer than fact. It was an interesting starting point for a drama about family secrets, how criminals and victims can live together in one family.
Tom Schilling 
Florian: It’s a very difficult role because he says almost nothing throughout the film. I needed someone who was magnetic and subtle enough to have a strong effect on the viewer, even without any dialogue, and he had that. This role of the artist is someone who mainly observes other people doing things. It’s very hard for an actor to make that interesting. Tom does it wonderfully.
Sebastian Koch as Antagonist?

Florian: I think I would have made my agents at CAA happier if I’d made the film in English and had cast an English-speaking actor, but I really felt this had to be in German to be authentic. I immediately thought of Sebastian Koch for the role because he has the ability to make even an insanely villainous character so charming. He’s just an amazing actor. All the great directors who’ve worked with him– Verhoeven, Spielberg, Tom Hooper–have told me how amazing it was to work with him, and I feel the same way.

Collaborating with Cinematographer Caleb Deschanel

Florian: The first time I understood that cinematography is great art was as a child, watching “The Black Stallion” at open-air movie theater in New York. Every single image was like a painting and I understood: Wow, this really is art. Since we were making a film about art, I needed the greatest artist, so I called Caleb. I couldn’t imagine anyone else shooting this. I love so many of his films. I’m so happy that he was able to find such a thrilling visual language for our movie. He also has great understanding of and great love for actors. In addition to creating incredible images, actors feel so safe with him, and that was a total joy.