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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Movie is tribute to power of love, of art, of found family. It doesn't shy away from darker aspects of humanity and inhumanity, of war, of discrimination and injustice. Centers on importance of art as personal expression and as lasting exploration of a particular life, of a particular time.
Positive Role Models
Several positive role models, including Charlotte's loving parents, selfless Ottilie, and self-sacrificing Alexander. Charlotte does something immoral but understandable, as does Alfred, who's encouraging but also an adulterer. Charlotte's grandfather is abusive, jealous, controlling; he dies at someone else's hands. Examines the perseverance and courage of Charlotte and others trying to survive the Holocaust.
Follows a White, German, secular Jewish character. Most other characters are fellow German Jews, with exception of Alexander, who's Romanian; Ottilie, who's American (and is voiced by a Black actor); and French and German supporting characters. A couple of characters live with trauma and suicidal ideation.
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Violence & Scariness
Nazis break windows, loot shops, beat Jews during Kristallnacht. Other unsettling scenes show authorities beating, grabbing, arresting people; most audiences will know that what awaits the characters is torture, starvation, and/or death. A woman tries to kill herself by hanging (her dangling feet are shown, as is her scarred neck). The same woman jumps out of a window; her dead body is shown, along with her crying relatives. Upsetting conversations about multiple suicides within one family.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Longing looks, passionate kissing, and two post-lovemaking scenes where naked bodies are shown next to or on top of each other.
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German soldiers use antisemitic slurs while beating Jewish civilians -- "dirty k-ke," "dirty Jews" -- and the language in propaganda flyers shows antisemitic caricatures of Jews.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Adults drink and smoke cigarettes at meals and pubs. Prescription drugs are also featured.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Charlotte is an animated biographical drama about the short life of Charlotte Salomon (voiced by Keira Knightley in the English version and Marion Cotillard in the French version), a German Jewish visual artist who produced a masterpiece, the book Life? Or Theatre?, while in hiding during the Holocaust. It may be animated, but this is a mature film that deals with the genocidal violence of the Holocaust, sex, drinking, suicidal ideation, death by suicide, and euthanasia/poisoning. The main character has two romantic partners in the film, and there are love scenes with partial nudity. Violent scenes highlight the Nazis' campaign against the Jews, street brutality, Kristallnacht, and the expulsion, rounding up, and arrest of Jewish residents (particularly artists, doctors, and business owners). German soldiers yell antisemitic slurs like "filthy k-ke" and "dirty Jew." Adults are shown drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes, as well as carrying prescription barbiturates in case they'd rather die by their own hand than be taken by the Nazis. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
Little known outside art history circles, Charlotte Salomon's remarkable story is told here in a thoughtful and memorable way that pays tribute to her as a burgeoning artist whose life was cut short. The animated medium works well to highlight Charlotte's gouache paintings, which are heavily featured in the film. The animation isn't slick, polished, and ultra-realistic like in a Pixar movie; it's purposely expressionistic to capture the artist's style. And the voice actors all do a fine job with their emotional cues. It's lovely to hear the late and wonderful McCrory again as Charlotte's stepmother, and Strong captures the smoldering gravitas of Charlotte's two-decades-older first love. Okonedo is playful and confident as selfless socialite Moore, while Knightley is mostly subdued as Charlotte, quietly observing everything around her. Perhaps that's in keeping with what's known about the artist, but it's curiously at odds with the spirit of her art and her personal narrative.
Ideally, this animated drama would be followed by live-action films/documentaries that explore more of the dark but unexplored aspects of Charlotte's tale. Charlotte leaves some issues ambiguous surrounding her grandfather's abusive nature and death, why Ottilie Moore left without Charlotte and Alexander, and how Charlotte's art finally made its way back to her parents, to name just a few dangling pieces. A few scenes make it seem like Charlotte didn't fully understand the urgency of the war, even though she had witnessed the Nazis' brutality early on. Anyone truly interested in Salomon as an artist will want to consider this an appetizer to one of several thorough biographies of her and her work. But despite its flaws, the story is compelling, and Salomon's art is vibrant and haunting, reminiscent of Modigliani, Chagall, and Munch. Teens and adults will undoubtedly want to explore Life? Or Theatre? more thoroughly online at the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam.
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