"Remember" is the contemporary story of Zev, who discovers that the Nazi guard who murdered his family some 70 years ago is living in America under an assumed identity. Despite the obvious challenges, Zev sets out on a mission to deliver long-delayed justice with his own trembling hand. What follows is a remarkable cross-continent road-trip with surprising consequences.
The new film from Atom Egoyan has a few things in common with Christopher Nolan’s much-loved memory-loss thriller Memento. But unlike Nolan’s Leonard Shelby, who emblazons his body with tattoos to remind him who he is and of his deadly mission’s purpose, Zev Guttman (Christopher Plummer) only needs one. It’s a five-digit number, identifying him as a Jew, that was inscribed on his left forearm at the Auschwitz prison camp. Zev escaped from Germany to the United States at the end of the Second World War, and he’s now a 90-year-old widower, approaching to the end of a happy and fruitful second life. He’s falling prey to dementia, but has one thing left to accomplish before his faculties desert him. With help from his friend Max (Martin Landau), a fellow resident at his nursing home and Auschwitz survivor, Zev has drawn up a list of addresses: at each house lives a man called Rudy Kurlander, one of whom was SS officer at Auschwitz who evaded justice by emigrating under the name of one of his victims. Zev’s plan is to visit each one in turn, find the former Nazi and execute him. Justice, however belated, must be done. Dementia is hardly unusual subject matter for films – only earlier this year, Julianne Moore won an Oscar for playing an Alzheimer’s patient in Still Alice – though it’s a little jarring at first to see the disease used as a plot device. But Egoyan, working from a script by first-time screenwriter Benjamin August, works hard to steer the premise away from crassness – and in Plummer, he’s blessed with a lead actor who can express Zev’s interior struggle with delicacy and dignified understatement. As Zev’s exasperated son (Henry Czerny) tries to track his father as he criss-crosses the United States and Canada with a small overnight bag packed with his pills and a pistol, it would have been easy for Remember to descend into a caper, but in every scene, every moment, the film is as committed as Zev to the severity of its mission. There is a supremely tense sequence in which Zev arrives at one of the addresses – a grime-caked shack perched on the lip of a quarry in Idaho – and is welcomed in not by a Rudy Kurlander but his son John (Breaking Bad’s Dean Norris), a limping, twice-divorced state trooper whose own unpleasant politics stir long-dormant fears in Zev’s chest. (His pet Alsatian is called Eva, for a start.) As the two men talk, Egoyan builds the suspense from a low hum to a foundation-shaking rumble, while the keening sirens and distant booms from the quarry outside begin to sound like an air raid. That house is one of a number of striking locations in Remember: the film is unusually curious about its incidental characters’ lives, and makes you consider how the four men tracked down by Zev – all German émigrés with the same name, and of the same cursed generation – have ended up in such different circumstances. The finale unfolds at another, very different Kurlander home, a lakeside chalet so tawny and sweet it could be a gingerbread house – and, this being an Atom Egoyan film, there’s a fairy-tale neatness to its surprising and precisely rigged denouement. (The full significance of what happens is bluntly spelt out in a postscript at the nursing home, though if you’ve been paying attention, the ending would make perfect sense without it.) Egoyan’s best films to date came during a mid-Nineties heyday that yielded The Sweet Hereafter and Exotica, and his recent form has been comparatively chequered. Devil’s Knot, his 2013 drama about the West Memphis Three trial, was muddy and vague, and his ambiguous kidnap thriller The Captive has yet to surface in the UK after its (undeserved) monstering at Cannes in 2014. What makes Remember more immediately appealing than either is the way it leaves its mechanisms proudly on display. As Zev closes in on his target you can almost hear the film’s clockwork clicking and whirring, until the story finally snaps shut on itself like a trap.
Robbie Collin, The Telegraph, 10 September 2015
It’s probably best not to wonder how much more artfully the Egoyan of “The Sweet Hereafter” might have handled “Remember’s” unreliably braided concerns of mourning and memory — not least because it’s hard to imagine that director choosing a script as questionable as this one in the first place. Thanks to some deft, empathetic playing, the film will draw an emotional reaction from certain sectors of the audience simply for broaching the sensitive topics it does, despite a superficial engagement with the psychology of Holocaust survivors and perpetrators alike. Likewise, its final reel upends proceedings as a conversation-starter, without saying anything of particular consequence about the first-hand grief and guilt swiftly disappearing with its eldest characters. Plummer’s character Zev Guttman has, it would appear, done his best to suppress the memory of what happened in Auschwitz for 70 years, having since built himself a loving new family and a comfortable new life that he’s set to see out in a New York City nursing home. Now, with his wife having recently passed, he finds himself trying to dredge up the experience for the sake of psychological closure — only to find that the suppression, in his growingly senile mind, may no longer be voluntary. Regular prompts arrive in the form of Max (Martin Landau), a wheelchair-bound fellow resident of the home and an Auschwitz contemporary of Zev’s, who claims to have traced the identity of the justice-evading Nazi commander who tormented them and killed their families. With both men determined that the official, living incognito somewhere on the continent under the alias Rudy Kurlander, be brought to account, Max has drawn up an elaborate trail for the more physically able Zev to track him down. Four men of the appropriate name and age have been identified in Canada, Ohio, Idaho and California; following Max’s detailed written instructions, the frail but resourceful Zev escapes the nursing home and hits the (rail)road, leaving his uninformed son Charles (Henry Czerny, given little but hand-wringing to do) in an understandable state. Suffice to say that his cross-country journey is a little more prosaic than the one undertaken by Sean Penn in Paolo Sorrentino’s markedly different Nazi-chasing fable “This Must Be the Place,” though in its most effective moments, Egoyan summons at least some semblance of the strange, secrecy-fixated nature of his better work: An inadvertent encounter with a virulent anti-Semite in his swastika-stamped Boise home is genuinely creepy, characterized by a kind of uncanny absurdity rather than the flat implausibility of the pic’s other key exchanges. Egoyan acts less directly on other opportunities to probe the eerie endurance of such prejudice in contemporary America, while d.p. Paul Sarossy opts mostly for a cruelly bright daylight palette. There is a state-of-the-nation comment inherent in the pointed ease with which Zev, though visibly ill-equipped to use it, manages to buy and carry a gun. As the weapon comes into play, however, larger ethical and existential questions over justified violence render gun control an ill-fitting point in this narrative. Zev’s travels proceed with slightly improbable ease: The complicating factor throughout is his own misfiring memory, as he frequently forgets the purpose of his mission, or indeed that he’s on a mission in the first place. At one point, he takes to scrawling reminder notes on his skin, calling to mind Guy Pearce’s disoriented detective in “Memento,” though the camera makes a queasy point of the similarity between such short-term scribblings and the Auschwitz identity number tattooed on his forearm — a grim prompt to the past that keeps eluding his long-term recall. By the time Zev tracks down the final Rudy Kurlander, the catharsis that awaits him feels less climactic than it does inexorable. Plummer lends considerable dignity and contained anguish to a character whose manhunt is complicated by his own constantly crumbling sense of self, though the strong supporting ensemble — including Bruno Ganz and Jurgen Prochnow, distractingly latex-bound as two of the supposed Kurlanders — finds few nuances in the thin, declamatory writing. Working overtime, on the other hand, to supplement the script is Mychael Danna’s molasses-heavy score, which piles on the strings (including sporadic klezmer-style motifs that seem to play in Zev’s headspace as flickering concentration-camp flashes) to undiscriminating effect.
Guy Lodge, Variety, Sept. 10, 2015
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Total Number of Responses: 87
Film Score (0-5): 4.68
At our last screening we were entertained by a full programme delivered to an almost full house. 164 watched Michael van Koetsveld’s short film “Falling in Love”, which was part funded by the GFS. At the Q&A there were some keen observations and praise for Michael and his team’s efforts. Some of you also reflected on the film in your comments. “I very much enjoyed Michael’s short. Tight and effective story line with a wonderful suspense ending that happily resolved the tension. Well done”, was typical. Other comments were “Great but too short a time to fully appreciate the wonderful twist at the end. A film whose title reflected the story”. “Well done the van Koetsveld family for the perseverance and Michael for bringing an idea to fruition and producing a very good end product”. However, there were other comments about the fades to black and the poor sound quality in the early scenes. Michael and his actors, crew and well-wishers left to show the film again at the Star. 130 remained to watch Remember and 67% of you provide responses with scores that has made it the film of the season so far, edging out by 0.01 point, Au Revoir Les Enfants. Riveting, powerful, brilliant and gripping are four words that appear many times in your reviews of the film. The acting performances, but particularly by Christopher Plummer were universally praised. One member commented, “A Tour de force by Christopher Plummer – his best performance ever. AND what an ending. Rather like Michael’s short, a big shock”. Others agreed, “Wonderful acting – fantastic ending, best film yet. We had two films tonight with great story lines and endings”. “Brilliant. The movie is as light-footed as Zev is not. Constantly changing in tone and direction to subtly wrong-foot the viewer moving to a stunning finale. Both Plummer and Landau – neither of whom I liked much in their younger days - are excellent”. Another sent an e mail the following day as follows: “I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed the film of Remember, a very sensitive topic and the story was portrayed well. Excellent cast, the scenery, the way the story captured your attention from beginning to end and never expected the outcome.Thank you for showing this film and a warm thank you to your team for spending the time to select this film! Excellent choice”. Other comments included the following: “A hard hitting drama with a brilliant central performance by Christopher Plummer. I did not see the twist at the end coming!” “Brilliant. Plummer still fantastic. So powerful and held the attention all the way through. Tense and powerful yet managed glints of humour too. Raised various ethical issues too – when (if ever) is revenge too late?” “Stunning performance by Christopher Plummer which overcame the implausibility of the plot”. “Very powerful and gripping. A deep and provoking film about ageing. Identity and revenge. An unhappy moral twist at the end”. And of course someone had to write – I will certainly REMEMBER this one – sorry!” This commentary and more of your observations may be seen on the webpage. “Gripping and interesting plot. The view of box cars from the bus apparently linking Zev being transported – helping to convince us of his Jewishness”. “Superb –with a very good twist at the end! “A brilliant film. I feel too emotional to write more”. “Cleverly constructed and very well thought out. Use of letter clearly highly significant”. “Wonderful performances from the old timers. (Better than in their salad days)”. “I remember the searches made for the Nazi SS men”. “An amazing film. Clear bur subtle and atmospheric”. A well-made film. Plot a little improbable. “Dementia detective” – Really??” “Brilliantly acted and a sustained sense of menace. Depressing subject”. “Enjoyed the film very much, but question whether his dementia was advanced enough for him not to recall he was an SS officer and not a prisoner”. Scoring the film good, one reviewer says that “having had experience of a relative with Dementia, there is no way he could have travelled alone such a distance even following instructions, so for me this made it all very implausible”. “A better ending would have been for Max to be revealed as the third guard showing the next number in sequence on his arm. This plot to kill the last two that could unmask him being successful”. “A very well made film, well-acted. However a rather silly story, even as an allegory of the futility of revenge. Felt it was below the average of the films at the GFS and below average is only poor”.