Monday, April 18, 2022

Charlotte, Animated

Charlotte Salomon’s Life? Or Theatre? is an ambitious autobiographical collection of a thousand paintings documenting events in the Jewish-German artist’s life. She should have had the opportunity to add thousands more to the series, but she died terribly young. Salomon’s short life and rich legacy are chronicled in Eric Warin & Tahir Rana’s animated feature Charlotte, which opens Friday in New York.

Salomon had a loving home in Weimar Germany with her father and step-mother, but she was keenly aware of the absence of her birth-mother. She wanted to study art, but her Jewish heritage made it difficult. Eventually, her parents sent her to live with grandparents in the south of France, but her grandfather was difficult to deal with, because her mother’s suicide had emotionally damaged him.

Nevertheless, she managed during this time to form a lifelong friendship with the American heiress Ottilie Moore and fall in love with refugee Alexander Nagler. Unfortunately, her grandfather tries to separate her from both, due to his stern (and cruel) notions of propriety.

Charlotte gets a bit sidetracked with the bitter melodrama surrounding her nasty grandfather. In contrast, Salomon’s romance with Nagler is achingly beautiful, precisely because it is so tragic. Arguably, screenwriters Erik Rutherford and David Bezmozgis have the biographical emphasis slightly off, but Salomon’s story is still well worth telling.

The animation has a sophisticated European vibe, appropriately enough, but it is nowhere near as visually striking as films like
Dilili in Paris or Loving Vincent. However, they often cleverly represent Salomon’s paintings within the film. As the English voice of Salomon, Keira Knightley helps transform her into a flesh-and-blood person, with dreams and frustrations, rather than just a symbol. Eddie Marsan, Mark Strong, and Sam Clafin all sound so perfectly in character, they blend into Salomon’s world, but Jim Broadbent rather stands out, unfortunately quite nasally, as grandpa dearest.

Frankly, the last thirty minutes or so of Charlotte are devastating. However, much of the unfortunate that passes between Salomon and her grandfather they probably should have taken to their graves. Regardless, Salomon’s work is significant and influential. Some liken it to the first graphic novel, while it undeniably documented the rise of the National Socialist regime. Very highly recommended for fans of cultured animation for smart people, Charlotte opens this Friday (4/22) in New York.