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Keira Knightley’s first foray into animation tells the story of Jewish painter Charlotte Salomon

By on April 21, 2022 0

Keira Knightley attends the World Premiere of Misbehavior in London, England in March 2020.Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

Until her agent sent her the script, Keira Knightley had never heard of Charlotte Salomon. Most people didn’t.

The Jewish painter was born in Berlin in 1917, and was killed the day she arrived in Auschwitz, five months pregnant, aged 26. But in her last 18 months, under the soot clouds of Nazism, she blew up more than 1,000 gouaches that told her life story in bright colors, often overlaid with text, and managed to send them to a non-Jewish ally who kept them safe. The collected work, titled Life? Or theatre?is considered a Gesamtkunstwerk (the German compound name for a multimedia opus) and a grandmother of the graphic novel.

Over the decades Solomon’s paintings – which are housed in the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam – have been turned into a book and exhibition catalog, and have inspired a documentary, an opera, a novel, a ballet and several drama show. Now his story is poised to reach its widest audience yet, as an animated film, Charlotte, a Canada-France-Belgium co-production. (Notable Canadians involved include producers Robert Lantos, Xavier Dolan, and Julia Rosenberg; co-writer David Bezmozgis; and actor Henry Czerny.) Knightley voices Charlotte in English; Marion Cotillard in French.

“The tragedy of history is absolute, there’s no getting around it,” Knightley, 37, said in a recent phone interview. “The Holocaust was an attempt to destroy the Jewish people and their culture. But Charlotte fought to express herself and her culture, and managed to make an extraordinary work of art in the face of so much suffering and devastation. I find it hopeful – that the human spirit, even when people try to destroy it, can create such beauty.

Charlotte is Knightley’s first foray into animation, and she found the process continually surprising. “I suddenly realized everything I do with my face,” she laughs. “I had to think about what I could inject into my voice to tell more of the story.”

Although the animation was done after the voiceovers were recorded, Knightley saw pencil sketches that gave him an idea of ​​the film’s 2D style, which echoes Solomon’s paintings. Co-directors Tahir Rana and Eric Warin were specific about the words they wanted their actors to hit and filmed their faces to use their expressions later. “They were saying things like, ‘She’s going to get up here, so we need you to stop and do what your standing noise would be,” Knightley recalled. “And I think, ‘I don’t know what my standing noise is.’ What vocal thing do I do when I open a closet? It was so interesting, things I hadn’t thought of before.

The character of Charlotte, however, fits perfectly with the women Knightley wants to play – women who make waves, who fight back: the main characters of Colette and Anna Karenina. Code breaker Joan Clarke in The imitation game; the fiery Elizabeths in Pride and Prejudice and the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.

“It’s hard to be human, hard to be a woman, hard to be true to yourself,” Knightley says. “I find it inspiring to play women who manage to be themselves in a society that doesn’t celebrate that. It’s a constant thread in my work – that person who feels like they don’t fit in at all. completely in the space given to her and trying to find more space. I am attracted to women who have the courage to go against the norm, who challenge the society in which they live and try to move this society forward in every way possible.

“It’s not always a courage that I have myself,” she continues. “I think I often play people where I want a bit of their guts. It’s nice to put yourself in their shoes a bit and be like, “Ah, that’s how it feels.” It’s messy. It is not easy. But it is vital. »

I submit that Knightley has shown courage in speaking openly about mental health issues, her struggles with PTSD and panic attacks. “I didn’t find it useful to try to present myself as someone more perfect and stronger than me,” she replies. “Trying to create a view of myself that was somehow less than human, pretending that I didn’t have all the cracks you have when you’re a human being. If you’re in the public sphere, the the only thing you can do to be helpful in any way is to admit your struggles, your human frailties, which will be there no matter how successful you are in your career, no matter how much money you have.

“People can be ashamed of not being as strong as they think they should be, as perfect as they think they should be,” she adds. “Shame is hard to live with. I think admitting your cracks helps you feel a little stronger.

Married to musician James Righton since 2013, Knightley is trying to teach their two daughters “to stand up, be themselves and take care of themselves,” she says. “I’m constantly trying to look at the people they’re becoming and supporting the people they’re becoming, and I’m not trying to force them into holes they don’t fit.” She laughs again. “And please and thank you are really great too.”

Even though she didn’t see Life? Or theatre? in person, Knightley now has a book of 80 images taken from the opus. She is particularly attracted by a self-portrait rendered by three faces, three different expressions, facets of a whole. “You can’t see Charlotte’s work and not think, ‘She’s a life force,'” Knightley summed up. “She didn’t give in, until the last possible moment, being the person she was trying to be.”

Charlotte opens in select theaters April 22

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