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Soundtrack review: Werk ohne Autor (Never Look Away) (Max Richter – 2018)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Werk ohne Autor (Never Look Away) (Max Richter – 2018)

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“Never Look Away (German: Werk ohne Autor)” is a 2018 German drama film directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. It was selected to be screened in the main competition section of the 75th Venice International Film Festival. It was also selected as the German entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 91st Academy Awards. Inspired by the life of Gerhard Richter, the story follows art student Kurt Barnert in post-war East Germany. He falls in love with fellow student Ellie Seeband, but her father, Professor Carl Seeband, opposes their relationship. Complications arise as Carl’s role in the Nazi eugenics program becomes known. Max Richter wrote the score.

Honestly, the plot could be inexistent and the synopsis of the movie could say “weather report” but if it’s scored by Max Richter it goes at the top of my priorities list. A drama, and a European drama nonetheless seems like one of the most fertile grounds for his kind of music. Indeed right from the opening cue “The mind’s eye” I recognise the sublime minimalistic sound that make me fall in love with his music when I heard his “The leftovers” score; it’s quiet, it’s deep and it moves at a slow place that allows me to take it all in in comfortable, poignant doses. This is the more introspective part of his score, the one focused only inwards. When the outside world interferes the music stays minimal but the warmth subsides a bit and gives way to a colder, more electronic influenced mood. The tonal changes are subtle and natural and I also like the way the instruments are spaced from one another and how the sound is not too busy. The guitar plays its tune, the violin watches for a bit and then joins in a little bit further and it’s a nice sensation of a world expanding.

Somehow “Never look away” has that war drama feel to it; it’s hard to explain but when you’ve listened to enough minimalistic war drama scores, you know how they sound, how they feel. There is a sense of urgency in the music, a silent accusation in the poignant way the strings are played as if the soloists are taking their time, making the listener feel every cross of the bow; there’s also a constant undertone of elegy. Even if the music is minimalistic Max Richter knows how to add a certain weight to it, the weight of the story, just slightly bigger than the ones of his albums for the soul; it’s the one small concession Max, whose music always has a life of its own, in a world of its own regardless of the story, makes to the story of “Werk ohne autor”.

The cues from this score are long, almost unusually long for Max Richter who I think except “Hostiles” hasn’t gone above the 50 minutes mark; once again each little piece of this composition takes its time to create a particular atmosphere and transmit a certain idea to the listener. There are a lot of ostinato motifs, mostly strings that make this score very good for background listening as well, complete with the ambient nuances. All in all, as always, the standalone listening experience of a Max Richter shows that this is a classically trained music composer who makes his music available and accessible outside the film music realm.

Cue rating: 85 / 100

Highlights:
The Mind’s Eye
Memory Lane
Fat & Felt
Begin Again
Art School
A Blank Canvas
Portraits

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Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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