Charlotte – Toronto 2021

Charlotte. Courtesy of TIFF.

Charlotte may be a beautifully animated film but given the setting before and during the Holocaust, this film is emotionally intense.

Please stay through the end of the credits.

Charlotte Salomon (Keira Knightley in English, Marion Cotillard in French) is a German-Jewish artist with the unfortunate luck of growing up during World War II. Referred to as Lotte by her father and step-mother, she grew up in Berlin with dreams of being an artist. Against all odds, Charlotte gets a spot at the prestigious Art Academy in Berlin. Not long after this, she falls in love with Alfred Wolfsohn (Mark Strong). But sooner than later, things go from already bad to extremely bad. Again, it’s Nazi Germany and Jews are not safe under any means, The Art Academy eventually expels Charlotte just because of being Jewish.

Charlotte’s parents, Albert (Eddie Marsan) and Paula (Helen McCrory), reach the conclusion that the family must leave Germany. Meanwhile, Charlotte moves in with her grandparents, Grosspapa (Jim Broadbent) and Grossmama (Brenda Blethyn) in southern France where she grows an attraction to Alexander Nagler (Sam Claflin). France offers a brief reprieve from Germany’s antisemitic policies for the time being. This allows Charlotte to paint in safety.

While living at Ottilie Moore’s (Sophie Okonedo) French villa, both England and France would declare war against Germany. As we all know, Germany would invade and occupy France in 1940. Anyway, the attraction to Alexander meant that Charlotte would be moving once again. This time, it’s to Nice in France. Nice is not quite the haven that the family needs. Living with her grandparents isn’t easy and tragedy would later strike the family. When her grandfather reveals a tragic family history, Charlotte starts painting her life story. She does this as a way of healing. Ultimately, she gives us the first graphic novel in Life? Or Theater? while also falling in love with Alexander. They later get married and move back into the villa.

This film spans at least a decade (1933-1943) so it’s for the best that the film is animated. It works better when it comes to casting. You don’t have to worry about casting a teenager before casting someone else as an adult. Unfortunately, the Nazis would deport Charlotte to Auschwitz and murder her on October 10, 1943. Twenty-six years old and five months pregnant.

Even though this film is intense at times, there is never a shortage of Holocaust content. I know–another Holocaust film, right? If we do not learn from history, we are going to repeat it. When it comes to both Holocaust victims and survivors, all of their stories are important. We all know Anne Frank’s story–this just goes without saying. How many of us can say we know Charlotte Salomon’s story? This is certainly my first time hearing about Charlotte and her work. Maybe it will lead to more people seeking out her work. There are a few books as an FYI. The Jewish Historical Museum is currently home to her collection.

Disney and Pixar get almost the attention in animation but other films manage to fly under the radar. Do not let this film off your radar. Not under any circumstance! The animation is beautiful and draws on her work–props to producer Julie Rosenberg. In producing the film, Rosenberg helps to right a tragic wrong. How many of us know who Charlotte Salomon is? Before watching this film, that is. I’ll wait.

Okay, I have to say something here. I cannot ignore this aspect of the film. Why do so many non-Jewish actors voice the Jewish roles in the film? We’ve seen this unfortunate trend since the beginning of Hollywood. It seems to never end. We’re currently living in an era where there is a push for authenticity on the screen. Except for the Jewish stories. We might be able to produce, write, and direct such stories. But to star in them? It’s starting to happen few and far between these days. Some projects do manage to have Jewish actors in Jewish roles but it’s not as common as we would hope. A conversation needs to take place sooner than later. Listen, I appreciate that this film helps introduce Charlotte Salomon to a larger audience. But again, I must ask why are Jews largely missing from the cast? Why?!?

Charlotte may bring a different approach to the biopic genre but her story is important and should not be forgotten. May Charlotte Salomon’s memory be a blessing.

DIRECTORS: Eric Warin and Tahir Rana
SCREENWRITERS: Erik Rutherford and David Bezmozgis
CAST: Keira Knightley, Brenda Blethyn, Jim Broadbent, Sam Claflin, Eddie Marsan, Helen McCrory, Sophie Okonedo, Mark Strong, Pippa Bennett-Warner (and Marion Cotillard in the French Version)

Charlotte holds its world premiere during the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival in the Special Presentations program.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.