Review by Tatiana Miranda
Starring Keira Knightley as the titular character, Charlotte follows the true story of German-Jewish artist Charlotte Salomon. This animated film captures her life and artwork with the backdrop of Nazi-occupied Germany, envisioning Salomon’s loves and losses through a 2D animated format reminiscent of her self-portraits. While the stylistic choices of Charlotte are simpler, utilizing a more traditional style of animation in 2D, it is the best choice creatively to showcase Salomon’s works within the film, which are more expressionist. Still, Salomon’s paintings of herself and other individuals are simple, with mere lines to distinguish a mouth from a nose. This style is similar to how Charlotte presents its subjects, a clever way to honor Salomon’s artwork without turning the movie into another version of Loving Vincent.
Based on her posthumously published autobiographical book of paintings, Life? or Theatre?, Charlotte focuses on the development of the book instead of being an animated version of the book’s contents. From the beginning of the movie, it’s clear that this isn’t an animated movie made for children but an art-driven historical film about a doomed artist and her greatest artistic achievement. Charlotte is a movie about the violence she faced while in Germany as a Jew and a depiction of the explicit love she shared with both Alfred Wolfsohn and Alexander Nagler. Co-director of Charlotte, Tahir Rana, states how he believes that “…more and more filmmakers are embracing animation to tell more and more of these adult stories” and that it’s a prime version of storytelling for stories with emotional journeys.
Although Charlotte Salomon’s artwork and life are interesting as they existed during one of the most terrifying moments in history, it is also a fascinating look at mental health and generational illnesses. Salomon’s matriarchal lineage is filled with depressive episodes and subsequent suicides. The movie even opens up with this fact as it showcases a young Charlotte trying to connect with her depressed and unresponsive mother. Life? or Theatre? displays Salomon’s mental health as she grapples with depression. While the movie doesn’t explicitly showcase Salomon’s illness separate from her conditions during World War II, it does make it clear that it isn’t just a story about the time period but also one about a talented artist who faced her own issues beyond the Nazi regime.
Charlotte is an astounding piece of cinema that captures the life of artist Charlotte Salomon in a unique and intriguing way through animation. Keira Knightley and the rest of the cast add to the simple animation to make the storytelling more vibrant and full of emotion. The end sequence of a landscape beyond the action of the scene as we hear Salomon and her husband, Alexander Nagler, taken away by Nazis is a heartbreaking finale that exhibits the extraordinary blend of audio and visuals that this movie possesses.
Charlotte is released in select theaters on April 22.