The beauty behind the animated biography titled Charlotte lies in how the film imagines constructing this artist’s famous paintings. From a stroke or a wet wash, those markings convey an image that haunted her mind. She is an Expressionist painter and her works depict a world collapsing upon itself due to war. When she’s not making a social commentary about her world, this woman is looking deep at her own turmoil.
Anyone of Jewish faith, sympathisers included, had to go into hiding. Charlotte Salomon (voiced by Keira Knightley) was sent away.
This film humbly chronicles the key moments of her life and what she witnessed to inspire her to create the world’s first graphic novel. Some of her works are multi-layered. A transparency holding text gives the art an added context, unlike how an onomatopoeia adds sound to that still image. The dialogues often told a truism.
The best moments include seeing Charlotte in a museum of fine art as she realises what she wants as a career. But to pursue that job means being able to sell her work. She’s a woman on the run, and where she goes is to her grandparents estate to learn a frightening truth about her family.
Salomon’s own sanity is subtly understated in Knightley’s performance. Because the production relies more on conveying the paintings richness, the animation style suffers. I think Tahir Rana and Éric Warin‘s movie wanted to recreate the look from this artist’s own work, simply titled “Self Portrait.” When they realised rendering all those textures meant greater computer processing time, all those pastels had to be reduced to simplistic sketches and shadings.
It’s hard to depict mental illness in a film, and the screenplay by Erik Rutherford and David Bezmozgis is careful in not overstating the problem. They suggest it was one of many factors that contributed to how she tried to fight against it by putting her pain in her works. She could’ve taken her life anytime to find freedom but told her story in pictures instead.
This movie’s animation manages to deliver sense of pathos a live-action take may not deliver. Afterwards, I looked up what this story may have missed. What I discovered is that she’s more than just another artist struggling to live as World War 2 broke out in Europe. She wanted to show the atrocities that went on, and they are certainly remembered when we see everything she’s suffered in putting those strokes to canvas. Today, we can view them at the Jewish Historical Museum.
4 Stars out of 5