Festivals, Reviews

TIFF 2021: ‘Charlotte’—The Beauty of Life Over the Ugliness of Human Nature

Stories about the Holocaust are told time and time again so that we may never forget what happened during such a dark period in history. In Charlotte, we are introduced to one creative soul that lived through the horrors of being Jewish.

Produced by Keira Knightley (voicing Charlotte), Marion Cotillard (who voiced the French version), and Xavier Dolan, Charlotte follows the story of an aspiring artist from a prominent Jewish family in Berlin. Her father Albert is a surgeon and her stepmother Paula (voiced by the late Helen McCrory) is a renowned opera singer. It seems like Charlotte had a privileged upbringing surrounded by intellect and artistry. However, the film quickly establishes the start of the oppression that she and her family experience and will be experiencing throughout, and the film creeps the looming danger as if there is still some sort of safety.

Charlotte takes a trip to Rome with her grandparents and they meet American socialite Ottilie Moore (Sophie Okonedo), who takes a liking to the young Charlotte. The two form a friendship and Ottilie invites Charlotte’s family to her villa in the French Riviera. As life is starting out for the young Charlotte, she gets accepted into a prestigious art school in Berlin despite being a Jew and meets Alfred (Mark Strong), Paula’s voice teacher. They develop a romantic relationship together but it ends tragically with the start of Kristallnacht. With the end of the peaceful life she knew, the Nazi oppression against her people ramps up. Her father sends her away to France to be with her grandparents and to escape persecution. There she meets a new man, Alexander (Sam Claflin), who is Ottilie’s groundskeeper. During her stay in France, Charlotte faces the dark truth about her family and her mother’s death in which her view of life is questioned. As the Nazis advance in France, Charlotte gets taken to Auschwitz.

When the Nazis rose to power, Charlotte used painting as an outlet to convey what was happening to her people. Painting also became her voice for her family, especially her Grosspapa or grandfather (Jim Broadbent), who was never letting her speak for herself. The film focuses on Charlotte’s life and how she conveys it through her paintings, telling her story through 2D animation; a style that pays homage to her work, beautifully drawn with vibrant colors. Charlotte Salomon compiled thousands of paintings throughout her life. She titled it Leben? oder Theater?, “Life? or Theatre?”, the first graphic novel ever made. Her appreciation of life beams through all the paintings, something the film faithfully holds on to. Life is the strongest theme of the film and it left the audiences a strong fondness for living.

Even with a powerful message about life, the film is still about a victim of the Holocaust. With a great appreciation of life comes the reflection of the wrongdoings of the past, the lives lost because of such evil fueled by hate. It gives us a reminder to never forget and to value the time we have left in this world.

Charlotte is a beautifully crafted animated film that retells the story of a woman trying to find love in a life that has treated her unkindly, a life that she is captivated by because of its beauty underneath all of its ugliness. With a star-studded cast, hopefully this film gains the traction it deserves.

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