REVIEW: Remember

2 04 2016

Remember“As I speak to you now, the icy water of the ponds and ruins fill the hallows of the mass graves, a frigid and muddy water, as murky as our memory.” These words come from the powerful closing monologue of Alain Resnais’ seminal 1955 documentary short “Night and Fog,” one of cinema’s first attempts to grapple with the Holocaust. It may seem hard to believe from our 21st century vantage point, but there was a time when our culture seemed in danger of turning its back on the horrors of the Nazi’s brutality and ultimately forgetting the sights of the concentration camps altogether.

In the past two decades, films as varied as “Schindler’s List,” “The Pianist” and “Son of Saul” all made cases for how culture and film can help us understand these events by reliving them. Spielberg, especially, pleads for collective remembrance, even going so far as to bleed the fictional representation into a then-present day verité scene.

Atom Egoyan’s “Remember,” as the title implies, is a film about memory. Specifically, it follows Christopher Plummer’s dementia-riddled Auschwitz survivor Zev Guttman as he embarks upon a quest to identify Nazis who assumed the identities of exterminated Jews to sneak into America. The film’s tension comes just as much from the lapses in Zev’s memory as it does from each stop on his cross-country journey to visit the many men assuming the alias Rudy Kurlander.

But in the world created by screenwriter Benjamin August, the act of remembrance is not a central thematic concern. It is the pretext for a revenge thriller. He misses an opportunity to use fading memory as more than a plot device. Remembering what happened in the Holocaust is perhaps more important than ever in a time where a new generation will never personally encounter survivors and a leading presidential candidate wavers on disavowing an unrepentant racist who wants to rehabilitate the image of Adolf Hitler. Many blame genocides in Syria and Darfur on our cultural amnesia. Might it strike again, if we are not vigilant?

August and Egoyan are free to make whatever movie they want. But why bother dredging up such loaded historical material only to produce a standard-issue genre flick? Art can be equal to the challenges of our times. We should not let those works content to stay disengaged off the hook so easily. C+2stars

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