Director, Atom Egoyan is on stage and visibly moved by the standing ovation he is receiving from a packed house at The Playhouse Theatre in Vancouver. And that’s before his film, Remember has even started! Screened as part of VIFF’s Canadian Images Showcase, Remember stars iconic Canadian actor, Christopher Plummer as Zev Guttman. A nursing home resident with periodic dementia, he is obsessed in his search to find the Nazi guard responsible for murdering his whole family at Auschwitz. With help from his friend, Max Zucker, played by Martin Landau, who assures him that the man he is seeking is now living under the assumed name, ‘Rudi Kurlander’, Zev sets out alone to deliver an overdue justice.
Born in Egypt to Armenian parents, Egoyan, 55, grew-up in Victoria before moving to Toronto. The Canadian filmmaker doesn’t shy away from controversy: from The Sweet Hereafter, (about the grief of surviving a tragic bus accident, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director and for Best Screenplay in 1997,) Ararat based on the Armenian Genocide in Turkey, Exotica and Chloe, Egoyan is attracted to isolated characters with secret pasts that often necessitate living life as a lie.
“I just came upon this screenplay for Remember by first-time screenwriter, Benjamin August who also happens to be Jewish,” said Egoyan after the film. “It’s really all about trauma and that really fascinates me.”
“Although this story is based on fiction, we have heard true stories about Nazis escaping and top German scientists invited by the U.S. government after the war to work for them who subsequently lived secret lives. I read the book, The Nazis Next Door: How America Became a Safe Haven for Hitler’s Men and it was an appalling revelation. Even today, very old men are being brought to trial and so they should be made accountable,” he affirms.
Egoyan admits that his biggest challenge in making Remember was to convince Academy Award winner, Christopher Plummer, 85, to take the role.
“ He knew I had seen his amazing stage performances and I worked with him on Ararat. I’m a huge fan and Chris was my only choice. What he achieves is amazing because in the film he has to be so frail but in real life he is so energetic, a raconteur- everything Zev is not,” Egoyan confides. “I think it’s a career-defining performance.”
Other solid performances come from German actors, Bruno Ganz, (Downfall), (Jurgen Prochnow (Das Boot) and Heinz Lieven, but it’s Dean Norris (Breaking Bad ) as the rabid, redneck State Trooper and dealer of his father’s SS memorabilia , who gives the most chilling execution.
Laughs Egoyan, “Tell your friends to go see the film, but promise me not to give away the ending!”
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Tikkun, (meaning to rectify a wrong- doing,) directed by Israeli filmmaker, Avishai Sivan, is a disturbing meditation on the universal question we all ask ourselves: who am I? It recently won first prize at the 2015 Jerusalem Film Festival.
With stunning surreal black and white cinematography by Shai Goldman, echoing the ancient Haredi clothing worn by the Ultra-Orthodox, the film is shot in the narrative style of Ingmar Bergman, relying heavily upon close-ups and sparse dialogue. But it’s completely without pretension, with imagery ( some scenes are very difficult to watch,) that jolts and commands the viewer’s rapt attention.
Haim-Aaron (played by actor, Aharon Traitel a former Hassidic Jew who left religion in real life,) is an obsessive young Ultra-Orthodox scholar in Jerusalem who writes endlessly in a tiny notebook that he hides under his desk. Following a self-imposed fast, he has “ impure thoughts ” in the shower, where he slips and falls. After paramedics work on him for 45 minutes, he is finally declared dead. His father, a shochet (played by Palestinian Muslim actor, Kalifa Natour, who had to learn Yiddish for the part,) refuses to accept his eldest son’s death and keeps pounding on his chest until Haim-Aaron is miraculously revived.
Both father and son wrestle with the question, did God really intend for Haim-Aaron to die that day? Sivan delves deeper into storytelling through the genre of magic-realism. Haim-Aaron mysteriously doesn’t need to wear glasses anymore and begins to hitchhike into secular areas in the middle of the night. His father experiences bizarre nightmares and hallucinations after resuscitating his son.
There are many allegories to blood and sacrifice in the father’s occupation of ritual slaughtering for Kosher purposes, as each man grapples with what living a lie is not a life means to them.
But there are also beautiful and touching cinematic moments in Tikkun; when Haim-Aaron watching the whirling Hassids dancing the horah, while he, rejected and isolated, looks on. In another, his little brother, (Gur Sheinberg,) who has begun wetting his bed in the tense atmosphere at home in which no explanation is ever given concerning his older brother’s strange behavior, sweetly presents Haim-Aaron with a tiny gift-wrapped box – inside, a tooth he has lost.
For those of us whose understanding of the Ultra Orthodox is a mystery, Tikkun is a fascinating, albeit disturbing parable that will haunt you many days after viewing the film.
TOP PHOTO: Poster for Remember starring Academy Award winner, Christopher Plummer. Photo: Courtesy Serendipity Point Films
* “Living a lie, is not a life” is a line from a pivotal character in the film Remember.