Remember

****

Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

Remember
"Atom Egoyan's terrifically paced episodic thriller Remember is hard to forget."

The story opens in darkness with breathing sounds as if we were stuck in a deep well. Then Zev Gutman (Christopher Plummer) wakes up in his room in the nursing home, calling for his wife, Ruth, only to be told by the nurse that she had passed away a week ago. Zev suffers from dementia and this is the first of many awakenings. Right away doubt is in the air and Zev is not the dotty old fool so many movie octogenarians are reduced to. Who in this place can he trust? Atom Egoyan's terrifically paced episodic thriller Remember is hard to forget.

Martin Landau is perfect as Max Rosenbaum, adding some of the mystery and intensity he displayed in North By Northwest as Leonard. Wheelchair user Mr. Rosenbaum, who has a horrible cough, has prepared a letter for his friend. Much more than a memory aide, it starts out by informing him about Ruth's death. Max has made arrangements to send Zev on a road trip to find someone they knew in Auschwitz. "Besides me, you are the only person who can still recognise the face of the man who murdered our families," he explains to a clouded Zev. That is why he has to bolt from the home and play James Bond.

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The man he is looking for goes by the name Rudy Kurlander, which pronounced sounds like "colander" until we see it written on a package. Appropriately, the man's identity is a sieve. There are four Rudy Kurlanders on Max's checklist. Any one of them could be using the pseudonym to hide his SS past as a commander in Auschwitz. By train, by bus, crossing the border into Canada and back to the US, our guide with fleeting memory stops in places full of American mystique. Boise, Reno, Nevada and Tahoe, names that conjure up mid-century film patina and poetry, do not exactly match the look of the interchangeable places Zev is staying at. Hotels look like nursing homes resembling hospitals. During our conversation with producer Robert Lantos at the Museum of Tolerance, Atom told me about the production design: "There is something anonymous about all these transitional spaces. That contrasts with the places where people are actually living."

There is Bruno Ganz (Rudy Kurlander #1), who famously played both Hitler and the second most prominent angel in German film history in Wim Wenders' Wings Of Desire, (Marlene Dietrich's blue one is arguably the most famous) as one of the Kurlanders lounging in a jogging suit in a hobby basement, decorated with harlequins. It is the half-empty smeary glass of orange juice, not the picture of General Rommel, that puts a stamp on him and his legacy.

Heinz Lieven's Kurlander #2 has a powerful encounter in a Canadian hospital and Dean Norris as John Kurlander steals the show from his father (Kurlander #3) as a hard-drinking State Trooper, living alone with his German Shepherd called Eva in a house filled with Nazi memorabilia in the middle of nowhere. J├╝rgen Prochnow is another actor whose past roles inform our reading of this one. He was the submarine captain in Das Boot and his Rudy Kurlander #4 lives in a very clean wooden gingerbread house near Tahoe.

Four times Zev interacts with children, each one of them extraordinarily kind and polite and interested in the old man who doesn't seem to remember, until he does. A young boy named Tyler (Peter DaCunha) he meets on the train to Cleveland. "You're a real whippersnapper," he tells the almost too wholesome chap who travels with his siblings and no adult, and explains that his own name, Zev, means Wolf. The boy is no endangered Red Riding Hood and instead helps his fellow traveller out by reminding him of the letter. Later on, a little girl, Molly Elizabeth (Sofia Wells), fulfills a similar function and gets a small history lesson about the number on Zev's arm.

The children's ever so slight otherworldly quality adds texture and an additional footnote on ravaging time. Guns are another forcefully revealing strand in Remember. Having Alzheimer's and looking confused? Want to buy a gun? No problem - here is your Gluck. You can even ask the friendly sales person (James Cade) to write down for you how to use it - in case you forget. And don't worry about setting off alarms in a shopping mall, the guard (Juan Carlos Velis) will look through your toiletry bag and feel nothing but nostalgia.

Although the film, written by Benjamin August, is structured in the spirit of a cumulative tale, with each new morning producing the same new shocking loss for the protagonist, being on a mission and meeting lots of people seems to do him good. The encounters on the road are as precise as they are disturbing. Remember blends the absurd into the fringes in order to reveal the artful way its hero steadily approaches the end of a chapter in history - with justice in mind before it's too late.

Reviewed on: 16 Feb 2016
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Zev has a mission: to avenge family, murdered 70 years ago by a Nazi guard who lives under an assumed identity in America.
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