Film review of Remember

(This film review of “Remember” appeared in the Australian Jewish News on May 12, 2016.)

Directed by Atom Egoyan; written by Benjamin August; starring Christopher Plummer, Bruno Ganz, Jürgen Prochnow, Heinz Lieven, Henry Czerny, Dean Norris and Martin Landau

Films about the aftermath of the Holocaust inevitably play on an intersecting mix of identity, revenge, guilt and wonder.  Why did one person survive, and not another?  When non-Jewish film-makers tackle the topic, many Jews pause with concern:  will this film illustrate truths that need to be told and still honour the memory of the dead?  It’s a difficult task, even for the best film-maker.

Armenian-Canadian film-maker Atom Egoyan (“The Sweet Hereafter”, “Ararat”) brings a special sensitivity, haunted by his family’s memory of the Turkish massacre of Armenians, and combining his career-long fascination with matters of identity, redemption and memory.  In his new film, “Remember”, he assembles an astonishing cast to create an R-rated thriller of revenge, plots and double-backs.

Christopher Plummer – the oldest actor ever to win an Academy Award – here gives an extraordinary performance as Zev Guttman, an Auschwitz survivor with dementia whose wife has recently died.  Fellow New York nursing home resident and camp survivor, Max Rosenbaum (Martin Landau, veteran of numerous Jewish roles including “Crimes and Misdemeanors”) convinces Zev to abscond from the home and track down the Nazi officer, Otto Wallisch, who had murdered his family – and kill him.  Having immigrated illegally to the USA, Wallisch is living under the assumed name Rudy Kurlander, except that Rosenbaum has found four Rudy Kurlanders, and is not certain which one is the real Otto.

With step by step precise instructions from Rosenbaum, Guttman slows works his way to each Kurlander, purchasing a Glock (German) pistol for the murderous deed.  The gunshop purchase scene is possibly one of the best ever directed by Egoyan, an understated semi-comic, semi-tragic illustration of American gun ownership. The problem with Guttman’s mission is that he can barely remember what to do each day, much less act as the assassin he has become.

Each Rudy Kurlander is a special case.  Bruno Ganz, the powerful Swiss-German actor who played Hitler in “Downfall” (2004), plays the first Rudy Kurlander, with a terrifying resonance of that earlier film.  Jürgen Prochnow (“Das Boot”) plays the fourth one.

The plot twists and turns and rockets along, fantastically at times, and is not for the faint-hearted; the film is R-rated for “violence and language”, for good reason.  “Remember” combines a number of genres, and consciously references the Guy Pearce memory loss film “Memento”.  Egoyan mostly keeps the film under control, ably helped by the stellar central performance by the 86 year old Plummer.  The ending – be warned – is a shock, providing much to talk about in long coffee-shop discussions afterwards.

(below: Christopher Plummer in “Remember”)

Christopher Plummer in Remember

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