Remember (MA15+) Limited release Green Room (MA15+) Limited release
The legacy of the Holocaust still casts a long shadow and an attempt to find a fresh approach to the subject is made in Canadian director Atom Egoyan’s Remember, another uneven offering from the director who once gave us such gems as Exotica (1994) and The Sweet Hereafter (1997). The film, based on an original screenplay by Benjamin August, centres on the character of Zev Guttman, superbly played by Christopher Plummer. Zev is a 90-year-old German-American who has been living in a home for the elderly in New York City since the death of his wife. He is suffering from dementia, and his condition is deteriorating by the day, but he’s still physically active and not confined to his bed.
The same can’t be said for his friend, Max Rosenbaum (Martin Landau), another resident of the home, who is confined to a wheelchair. Max and Zev are contemporaries, and both of them are survivors of Auschwitz. Max is obsessed with the thought that one of the senior guards at the concentration camp has survived and is living somewhere in North America. Using the internet, Max has investigated the whereabouts of the man, Otto Walisch, who now calls himself Rudy Kurlander. But there are four possible men with that name, all of them about the right age, who live, respectively, in Cleveland, Ohio; Boise, Idaho; and locations in Canada and California.
Unable to carry out the search for Kurlander himself, Max spends all his time preparing Zev to track down the monster, giving his friend detailed written instructions, even though Zev’s deteriorating condition means that unusual efforts have to be devised to keep him moving in the direction of his goal. These plot developments are strikingly similar to those featured in Christopher Nolan’s Memento (2000) in which Guy Pearce was the man with short-term memory loss.
A scene in which Zev follows Max’s instructions and acquires a gun is a grim testament to the ease with which sales of lethal weapons are carried out in America. While Zev doggedly follows Max’s instructions, his son Charles (Henry Czerny) becomes understandably concerned about what has happened to his father.
What follows is an undeniably intriguing but increasingly implausible suspense film as Zev finds himself visiting the homes of the suspects (with Bruno Ganz and Jurgen Prochnow appearing as two of them) while not being entirely clear about his mission. A sequence in which he discovers that one of the suspects is dead but that his son (Dean Norris), a policeman, is a dedicated neo-Nazi is genuinely chilling.
But eventually the twists and turns in August’s screenplay threaten to transform a serious subject into a cheap, melodramatic thriller and Egoyan seems unable to modify the increasingly unconvincing scenario. The film thus could be accused of cheapening and diminishing an important subject.
Despite its flaws, though, the film has its positive aspects. As noted, Plummer gives one of his finest recent performances in the leading role, convincingly playing the part of a man desperately trying to remember his dangerous mission and fighting to stay sane in increasingly difficult circumstances. A strong supporting cast also does good work, and the film — as is the case of all Egoyan’s films — is made with smooth professionalism. It’s a pity that it increasingly strays into the direction of almost laughable improbability. Jeremy Saulnier is a young independent American director of thrillers. Although so far his films haven’t made a great impact in commercial terms, he has gained plenty of attention elsewhere; his second feature, Blue Ruin, was selected for the prestigious Critics Week section at Cannes in 2013 and was favourably received; last year Green Room was picked for the Directors Fortnight at Cannes and, again, found plenty of supporters among the international critical fraternity.
Saulnier certainly knows how to create suspense on screen, and it seems likely that before too long he’ll be working for major companies on generous budgets. Creatively, that may or may not be a good move, because Blue Ruin and Green Room are distinguished by the skilled way the writer-director employs all the elements of his craft to depict a seemingly simple situation in which his protagonists face some kind of unexpected threat and then gradually turns the screws until the tension becomes almost unbearable. Like many of his generation, he also likes to throw into the mix elements of brutal violence, and while this may endear him to youn-