You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Venice Film Review: ‘Remember’

Despite Christopher Plummer's poignant lead performance, Atom Egoyan fails to find form in this Nazi-tracking mystery.

Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau, Henry Czerny, Dean Norris, Jurgen Prochnow, Bruno Ganz, Heinz Lieven, James Cade, Peter DaCunha, Sofia Wells, Jane Spidell, Stefani Kimber, Kim Roberts, Amanda Smith. (English, German dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3704050/?ref_=nm_flmg_dr_1

Atom Egoyan’s ongoing search for his own best form makes no real breakthrough in “Remember,” a state-hopping Nazi-hunt mystery that puts a creditably sincere spin on material that is silly at best. At worst, tyro writer Benjamin August’s screenplay is a crass attempt to fashion a “Memento”-style puzzle narrative from post-Holocaust trauma. Toggling variables of disguised identity and dementia, as Christopher Plummer’s ailing German widower travels across North America in search of the camp commander he recalls from his time in Auschwitz, the pic is riddled with lapses in logic even before a stakes-shifting twist that many viewers might see coming. Crafted in utilitarian fashion by Egoyan, “Remember” does little to earn the poignancy of Plummer’s stricken performance — though that asset, plus a button-pushing premise, could attract reasonable interest from older arthouse auds.

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.

Popular on Variety

Venice Film Review: 'Remember'

Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (competing), Sept. 10, 2015. (Also in Toronto, London film festivals.) Running time: 94 MIN.

Production: (Canada-Germany) A Serendipity Point Films presentation and production in association with Distant Horizon, Detalle, Egoli Tossell Film, Telefilm Canada. (International sales: IM Global, Los Angeles.) Produced by Robert Lantos, Ari Lantos. Executive producers, Mark Musselman, Anant Singh, Moises Cosio, Jeff Sagansky, D. Matt Geller, Lawrence Guterman, Michael Porter. Co-producers, Jens Meurer, Paula Devonshire.

Crew: Directed by Atom Egoyan. Screenplay, Benjamin August. Camera (color, HD), Paul Sarossy; editor, Christopher Dolandson; music, Mychael Danna; production designer, Matthew Davies; art director, Rory Cheyne; set decorator, Elizabeth Carderhead; costume designer, Debra Hanson; sound, Bernhard Joest; supervising sound editor, Steve Munro; re-recording mixer, Matt Chan, Daniel Pellerin, Mark Zsivkovits; visual effects supervisor, Geoff D.E. Scott; visual effects, Intelligent Creatures; stunt coordinator, Alison Reid; line producer, Aaron Barnett; associate producers, Brian Cox, Rosalie Chilelli; assistant director, Daniel Murphy; casting, John Buchan, Jason Knight.

With: Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau, Henry Czerny, Dean Norris, Jurgen Prochnow, Bruno Ganz, Heinz Lieven, James Cade, Peter DaCunha, Sofia Wells, Jane Spidell, Stefani Kimber, Kim Roberts, Amanda Smith. (English, German dialogue)

More Film

  • Film director and scriptwriter Vojtech Jasny

    Vojtech Jasny, Award-Winning Czech Filmmaker, Dies at 93

    Czech filmmaker Vojtech Jasny, director of “All My Good Countrymen,” which won the best director prize at Cannes in 1969, has died. He was 93. According to the Associated Press, Slovacke divadlo, a theatre he frequently visited, said that Jasny died Friday, and a family representative confirmed his death to the CTK news agency. Jasny [...]

  • Noelle Anna Kendrick

    Film Review: 'Noelle' on Disney Plus

    What do you get when you toss together Christmas cheer, Christmas kitsch, a fish-out-of-the-North-Pole setup swiped from “Elf,” and a plot that turns on whether Kris Kringle’s daughter, played as a perky naïf by Anna Kendrick, has what it takes to step into her dad’s snow boots? You get a plastic icicle like “Noelle,” Long [...]

  • Scandalous

    Film Review: 'Scandalous: The Untold Story of the National Enquirer'

    When grocery store shoppers snag a copy of Weekly World News (the rag responsible for the refuses-to-die “Bat Child” hoax), they know they’re getting fake news. But when they pick up the National Enquirer, it’s a far more ambiguous prospect. Enquirer headlines are deliberately provocative, shouting details of the private lives of real people — [...]

  • Cynthia Erivo

    Cynthia Erivo Almost Gave Up Singing to Become a Spinal Surgeon

    Before Cynthia Erivo went on to become a Tony and Grammy winner, she nearly gave up singing to be a spinal surgeon. In her “Variety Studio: Actors on Actors” conversation with Alfre Woodard, the “Harriet” star said she had been singing since she was toddler. Her mother noticed she’d hum while eating her food when [...]

  • Alfre Woodard Cynthia Erivo Variety Actors

    How Cynthia Erivo and Alfre Woodard Found Deeper Meaning in ‘Harriet’ and ‘Clemency’

    Cynthia Erivo (“Harriet”) and Alfre Woodard (“Clemency”) sat down for a chat for “Variety Studio: Actors on Actors.” For more, click here. Cynthia Erivo and Alfre Woodard are at the forefront of this year’s awards conversation for two prestige films directed by black women. In Chinonye Chukwu’s “Clemency,” a movie that won the Sundance Grand [...]

  • Rocketman Taron Egerton

    'Rocketman' Hair and Make-Up Artist Talks Transforming Taron Egerton

    Hair and make-up artist Lizzie Yianni-Georgiou sums up “Rocketman” as the story “of a great icon who hits rock bottom. You see the great things happen and he hits rock bottom. By the end, he’s pulled himself together and he’s still standing.” For the viewer, it’s a rollercoaster ride of emotion, but as Yianni-Georgiou says, [...]


    Box Office: 'Ford v Ferrari' Dashing to No. 1 While 'Charlie's Angels' Flounders

    Christian Bale and Matt Damon’s racing drama “Ford v Ferrari” is set to win the weekend box office by a long shot with an esimated $29 million from 3,528 domestic locations. Elizabeth Banks’ “Charlie’s Angels” reboot could land in a distant second in its debut weekend with about $8.2 million, but the second frame of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content