Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Remember (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


There have been many Holocaust films. Some are dramas. Far fewer of them are thrillers that must tread a delicate line between suspense and drama, careful not to fall into the realm of adventure or melodrama too quickly as to seem far fetched or cloying.  Fortunately, most have been well done with care and detail. Last year's "Phoenix" belongs in this category, as does the wonderful "Son of Saul", a masterpiece that is as much about the legacy of Franz Kafka as it is about the morally abhorrent Nazis.

Now, by director Atom Egoyan, there is "Remember" a tense, breathless drama that closes in on the paranoia of survivor aftermath and barely releases its wolf-like grip. Zev (Christopher Plummer) is an aged widower stricken with dementia who is an Auschwitz survivor. He does the best he can and is by all accounts kind and considerate if a bit taciturn.

As fate would have it, his next door neighbor in the nursing home is a frail man with an oxygen tank by the name of Max (Martin Landau.) The two are best friends as they have managed to survive war, not to mention the concentration camp. Max asks Zev, if he has remembered the promise that he had made to his wife, specifically to avenge his family's murderers at the hands of the SS. Zev recalls nothing concrete but retains an inkling. Max then gives the man a letter which corroborates the pact that Zev made to Max and his own wife, Ruth.

The letter says that he must kill the  Blockführer, whose name is Rudy Kurlander. As there are four Kurlanders, however, there is no way of knowing which man is the one responsible. The story draws us in superbly, mainly due to giving us an alternate vision to the usual "hitman" or revenge narrative where all is under the assassin's confident control. Zev knows little about guns. His hands tremble and he is frequently sweaty and spent. Instead of hanging out in fancy cafes or Mediterranean resorts, his stalking grounds are nursing homes, hospitals and desolate porches. The film gives a slight but telling glimpse of the  way stations known as convalescent centers and the fluorescent boredoms that dwell within.

Though the film gives a nod to "Memento," while giving a strong tribute to Franklin J. Schaffner's "The Boys from Brazil" in its condition of men hell bent on revenge (coupled with the frequent appearance of actor Bruno Ganz yet again), the film is closer to Jonathan Demme's "Something Wild" for its glib and acidic detail in its characters.

Each time Zev comes to see a possible "Kurlander," the person is usually infirm, struggling or near death, thereby undermining the potency or value of justice.

Like Demme as well, are the scenes featuring the flippant and wisecracking gun dealer, the nonchalant cop, and the rabid, nazi-sympathizer sherriff (Dean Norris) who is as visceral and scary as Ray Liotta. Juxtaposed against each weird, but authentic character, the passive landscapes of Reno and Boise hold still and waits.

To add to our confusion, "Remember" teases our concepts of what is right and wrong. When one sees a man in a hospital bed, on  an i.v., he or she may wonder if it is ever possible to forgive under such circumstances. With each visitation, one is played and put to the test: what does this house contain, a rosy faced innocent woman or a dour and unrepentant officer?

At first, it appears that the one singular and shocking sight in "Remember" is a tell tale swastika against a bare wall.

Don't move and take caution with the last percussive shot.

Write Ian at ianfree1@yahoo.com

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