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Review: Remember

Atom Egoyan is only interested in using the Holocaust as fodder for carrot-dangling plot contrivances.




Photo: A24

It takes some gumption, and no small measure of obtuseness, to go with a moral imperative as the title of your film, especially when there’s little intention of elaborating on that ethic. Atom Egoyan’s Remember is about memory in the literal sense. Zev Gutman (Christopher Plummer), a 90-year-old Auschwitz survivor battling dementia in an upscale hospice in New York, is charged with the task of hunting down the man who held the post of Blockführer and killed his family. The architect of this scheme is a fellow survivor, Max Rosenbaum (Martin Landau), an erudite, wheel-chair-bound Jewish scholar who believes the culprit now lives under the name Rudy Kurlander. Gutman slips out of the nursing home one night and embarks on a sprawling, senescent manhunt that takes him across the Canadian border to the outskirts of Boise, Idaho. To help Gutman’s memory, Rosenbaum gives him a lengthy letter that will continually remind him of his mission.

But Remember, as its title plainly suggests, is more than just about the struggle to stave off complete memory loss. Gutman’s painstaking attempts to recollect his hazy past presumably serves as a metaphor for the importance of retaining one of the 20th century’s most horrific atrocities in the backlog of one’s mind. After a while, however, one senses that Egoyan is only interested in using the Holocaust as fodder for carrot-dangling plot contrivances.

In a telling sequence, Gutman arrives at what he believes to be Kurlander’s location, but what actually turns out to be the home of a cop (Dean Norris) whose deceased father was once an SS officer. When Gutman is invited into the house to have a drink, it isn’t clear if the cop is without bad intentions. But this ambiguity is quickly dispelled when Gutman discovers what amounts to a slew of stockpiled Aryan signifiers, from an SS uniform to a copy of Mein Kampf, all brazenly professing the cop’s maliciousness. One anticipates some ironic or subversive angle to emerge from the scene, but nothing of the sort happens. Instead, the roughneck cop lashes out at Gutman with all the incredulity befitting of a caricature: “Are you a Jew? You’re a Jew?!”

Gutman, however, is no caricature, even if there are few other characters in the film who can’t escape that designation. Adopting a stuttering, ersatz German accent to accompany his doubt-ridden visage, Plummer is compelling because he never makes it seem implausible that a character so physically and mentally indisposed would also be fully primed to take someone out.

Egoyan’s camera obsessively notes this implicit contradiction by continually framing Gutman in either close-ups or full shots, ensuring that either Gutman’s plodding gait or his skittish eyes provide a sense of powerlessness. Gutman’s physical toil, in the face of his impending loss of self, turns into a heroic gesture of sorts, never more evident than when Gutman points his pistol at a suspected Kurlander. Remember’s plot may be clinical and procedural (the obligatory Egoyan-ian twist debases the historical tragedy that the film purports to revere), but Gutman is neither of those things.

Cast: Christopher Plummer, Dean Norris, Martin Landau, Jurgen Prochnow, Bruno Ganz Director: Atom Egoyan Screenwriter: Benjamin August Distributor: A24 Running Time: 94 min Rating: R Year: 2015 Buy: Video



Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Original Screenplay

This season, Hollywood is invested in celebrating the films they love while dodging the cultural bullets coming at them from every angle.



Green Book
Photo: Universal Pictures

You know, if it weren’t for the show’s producers effectively and repeatedly saying everything about the Academy Awards is terrible and needs to be changed, and the year’s top-tier contenders inadvertently confirming their claims, this would’ve been a comparatively fun and suspenseful Oscar season. None of us who follow the Academy Awards expect great films to win; we just hope the marathon of precursors don’t turn into a Groundhog Day-style rinse and repeat for the same film, ad nauseam.

On that score, mission accomplished. The guilds have been handing their awards out this season as though they met beforehand and assigned each voting body a different title from Oscar’s best picture list so as not to tip the Oscar race too clearly toward any one film. SAG? Black Panther. PGA? Green Book. DGA? Roma. ASC? Cold War. ACE? Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Even awards-season kryptonite A Star Is Born got an award for contemporary makeup from the MUAHS. (That’s the Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild, not the sound Lady Gaga fans have been making ever since A Star Is Born’s teaser trailer dropped last year.)

Not to be outdone, the Writers Guild of America announced their winners last weekend, and not only did presumed adapted screenplay frontrunner BlacKkKlansman wind up stymied by Can You Ever Forgive Me?, but the original screenplay prize went to Eighth Grade, which wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar. Bo Burnham twisted the knife into AMPAS during his acceptance speech: “To the other nominees in the category, have fun at the Oscars, losers!” In both his sarcasm and his surprise, it’s safe to say he speaks on behalf of us all.

As is always the case, WGA’s narrow eligibility rules kept a presumed favorite, The Favourite, out of this crucial trial heat. But as the balloting period comes to a close, the question remains just how much enthusiasm or affection voters have for either of the two films with the most nominations (Roma being the other). As a recent “can’t we all just get along” appeal by Time’s Stephanie Zacharek illustrates, the thing Hollywood is most invested in this season involves bending over backward, Matrix-style, to celebrate the films they love and still dodge the cultural bullets coming at them from every angle.

Maybe it’s just tunnel vision from the cultural vacuum Oscar voters all-too-understandably would prefer to live in this year, but doesn’t it seem like The Favourite’s tastefully ribald peppering of posh-accented C-words would be no match for the steady litany of neo-Archie Bunkerisms spewing from Viggo Mortensen’s crooked mouth? Especially with First Reformed’s Paul Schrader siphoning votes from among the academy’s presumably more vanguard new recruits? We’ll fold our words in half and eat them whole if we’re wrong, but Oscar’s old guard, unlike John Wayne, is still alive and, well, pissed.

Will Win: Green Book

Could Win: The Favourite

Should Win: First Reformed

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Watch: Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir, Starring Honor Swinton Byrne and Tilda Swinton, Gets First Trailer

Joanna Hogg has been flying under the radar for some time, but that’s poised to change in a big way.



Photo: A24

British film director and screenwriter Joanna Hogg, whose impeccably crafted 2013 film Exhibition we praised on these pages for its “disarming mixture of the remarkable and the banal,” has been flying under the radar for the better part of her career. But that’s poised to change in a big way with the release of her latest film, The Souvenir, which won the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Prior to the film’s world premiere at the festival, A24 and Curzon Artificial Eye acquired its U.S. and U.K. distribution rights, respectively. Below is the official description of the film:

A shy but ambitious film student (Honor Swinton Byrne) begins to find her voice as an artist while navigating a turbulent courtship with a charismatic but untrustworthy man (Tom Burke). She defies her protective mother (Tilda Swinton) and concerned friends as she slips deeper and deeper into an intense, emotionally fraught relationship that comes dangerously close to destroying her dreams.

And below is the film’s first trailer:

A24 will release The Souvenir on May 17.

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Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Sound Mixing

For appealing to voters’ nostalgia for drunken karaoke nights of yore, one film has the upper hand here.



20th Century Fox
Photo: 20th Century Fox

Given what Eric wrote about the sound editing category yesterday, it now behooves me to not beat around the bush here. Also, it’s my birthday, and there are better things for me to do today than count all the ways that Eric and I talk ourselves out of correct guesses in the two sound categories, as well as step on each other’s toes throughout the entirety of our Oscar-prediction cycle. In short, it’s very noisy. Which is how Oscar likes it when it comes to sound, though maybe not as much the case with sound mixing, where the spoils quite often go to best picture nominees that also happen to be musicals (Les Misérables) or musical-adjacent (Whiplash). Only two films fit that bill this year, and since 2019 is already making a concerted effort to top 2018 as the worst year ever, there’s no reason to believe that the scarcely fat-bottomed mixing of Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody will take this in a walk, for appealing to voters’ nostalgia for drunken karaoke nights of yore.

Will Win: Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody

Could Win: A Star Is Born

Should Win: First Man

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