Directed by Tahir Rana and Éric Warin.
Featuring the voice talents of Keira Knightley, Sadie Deogrades, Brenda Blethyn, Jim Broadbent, Sam Claflin, Henry Czerny, Eddie Marsan, Helen McCrory, Sophie Okonedo, Mark Strong, and Marion Cotillard.
An account of German-Jewish artist Charlotte Salomon living in the south of France between 1941 and 1943.
Directors Tahir Rana and Éric Warin open their animated biopic of German-Jewish artist Charlotte Salamon (voiced by Keira Knightley, although there is an upcoming French version which will feature the talented Marion Cotillard filling in) having just finished what would go on to be her masterpiece (and what is considered to be the first-ever graphic novel), a series of roughly 1000 exquisitely crafted portraits summarizing the joys and tragedies of her doomed life. The decision to tell the story of Charlotte (or any artist) through animation is a sensible one that could yield beautiful results, but here, the filmmakers rarely find ways to liven or add emotional depth to the experience doing so.
When Charlotte’s romantic partner Alexander Nagler (voiced by Sam Claflin) expresses disbelief that she has finished her project already, she states that she had to rush and that there was no time. Even without seeing what led up to this moment, we can gather that Nazi oppression and war crimes are involved. However, when the film eventually catches up to that scene and the aftermath, there is some documentary footage to close things out where it’s mentioned that it was in Charlotte’s eyes the entire time that her time and life as an artist were on borrowed time. With that said, it’s important to report that the animation itself within Charlotte is so bland and rudimentary that none of that urgency is felt or conveyed through facial expressions. If anything, the animation is mundane and holds the narrative back aside from some lovely painterly transitions here and there.
Realistically, Charlotte is probably just as much an animated feature due to budget constraints as artistic intent. Either way, the script from Erik Rutherford and David Bezmozgis falls into the pratfalls of the standard biopic formula, shuffling Charlotte along from one period of suffering to the next. Worse, it’s often executed with such an overly hurried pacing that many moments of despair and trauma are bafflingly handled and filled with convenient plotting you can’t help unintentionally smirk at. Perhaps I’m just heartless, but this film’s approach to suicide is embarrassingly conceived and written, with key characters arriving on the scene just in time that it almost feels like someone is playing a sick joke on the characters.
In a nutshell, the story follows Charlotte aspiring to be an artist, forced to be separated from her parents as life in Germany quickly turns dangerous for Jews. She can flee the country and live with her grandparents, a crotchety grandfather (voiced by Jim Broadbent) who tears down her artistic ambition, and a depressed grandmother (Brenda Blethyn). Simultaneously, she falls for and grows closer to a doctor, debating running away from her grandfather, that resents her while demanding her life revolves around his needs.
There are some admirable elements to Charlotte, such as the strong voiceover work throughout (and my gut tells me the French version is probably even better in this regard and might even elevate emotional moments that do and don’t work here). The story of Charlotte Salamon is undoubtedly a fascinating one that deserves to be told. Hopefully, someday she will be given a more effective biopic treatment, or a definitive documentary, considering the footnote archival footage makes for the most compelling stuff here.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com