Directors: Tahir Rana, Eric Warin
Writers: Erik Rutherford, David Bezmozgis
Cast: Keira Knightley, Marion Cotillard, Brenda Blethyn, Jim Broadbent, Sam Claflin, Eddie Marsan, Helen McCrory, Sophie Okonedo, Mark Strong
By Joan Amenn
“Charlotte” (2022) is a deeply personal tale that will inevitably be compared to “Where is Anne Frank?” (2022). (You can read the insightful review of the latter film by Calum Cooper here: https://intheirownleague.com/2022/03/08/gff2022-review-where-is-anne-frank/ ) Both are animated films that tell of brilliantly creative women’s lives cut short by the brutality of bigotry and war. While “Anne” has a clever plot twist that provides the viewer with a point of view that is a bit shielded from the cruelty of the actual events, “Charlotte” offers no such comfort. Like the subject of the film herself, we are plunged into an increasingly threatening maelstrom of violence and horror. This is not an animated film for children. Like the masterpiece “Flee” (2021), adult themes are explored through the method of animation but in this case, it is especially apt since Charlotte Salomon was a painter.
So often when film attempts to depict the life of a women artist, the narrative focuses on their relationships and not so much on their work. In “Charlotte”, we see her growing as an artist, studying in museums, and taking classes. That is, until the Nazis label certain works “degenerate” not so much for their subject matter than to the bigotry against those who painted them. It is painful to see Charlotte struggle to continue to paint even if she cannot have the same access to studios and gallery showings as others who went to school with her. Of course, she could have just stopped working altogether but as she notes at one point in the film, painting is her way of coping with the madness around her.
Keira Knightley is excellent in lending nuance to Charlotte as she grows into a woman who is increasingly aware that her own agency is being tightly limited to what she can put down on paper. Marion Cotillard provided the voice of Charlotte in the French version of the film and both women are executive producers, which is a wonderful tribute to the power of Charlotte’s legacy as an artist, even if she was denied years of building an extensive body of work.As the film suggests, Charlotte herself seemed to know that she would not be granted that fate so she dedicated herself to painting her life in a series of pictures that became what some have referred to as the first graphic novel ever created. How she managed to complete hundreds of pictures telling her life in intimate detail, even as she fled and hid from those who were intent on destroying her is a story that has long deserved to be told. This film packs a lot into a short runtime which can be frustrating but also gives the viewer a breathtaking sense of the urgency with which Charlotte tried to live all she could in the time she had.
Helen McCrory, in her last role, gives grace and tenderness to Charlotte’s stepmother, Paula. Jim Broadbent has a very difficult role as Charlotte’s grandfather who on the surface is an abusive, bitter old man. He gives him depth as a man who has suffered much and ultimately could not protect those who he loved the most so that the final scenes between him and Charlotte are emotionally shattering.
Charlotte called her book of paintings “Life? Or Theater?” and it is not exactly clear why she chose that title. It is the story of her life but as art, perhaps it can also be seen as theater, just like this animated film is also dramatic and theatrical. Whatever the reason, Charlotte Salomon can now finally be remembered for her uniquely creative voice that remains defiant to those who wanted her silenced. “Charlotte” will be opening in theaters throughout the US and is worth looking out for.
*THESE ARE CONFIRMED DATES AND LOCATIONS KNOWN AS OF GOING TO PRINT-PLEASE CHECK YOUR LOCAL THEATER LISTINGS: *
Opens in New York – Friday, April 22
Opens in Los Angeles – Friday, April 22
Laemmle Royal in West Los Angeles
Laemmle Playhouse 7 in Pasadena
Opens in San Francisco / Berkeley – Friday, April 29
Landmark’s Opera Plaza
Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas
Opens in Atlanta – Friday, April 29
Regal Tara Cinemas
Opens in Boston / Arlington, MA – Friday, April 29
Opens in Columbus, OH – Friday, April 29
Gateway Film Center
Opens in Irvine, CA – Friday, April 29
Regal Edwards Westpark
Opens in Phoenix, AZ – Friday, April 29
Harkins Theaters Shea 14
Opens in Seattle, WA – Friday, May 6
SIFF Film Center
Opens in Winston-Salem. NC – Friday, May 6