Short Takes: Remember

(Atom Egoyan, Canada/Germany, 2015)

Never forget,” the injunction to preserve the memory of the Holocaust lest its atrocities recur, acquires a meretricious double meaning in Atom Egoyan’s Remember. Elderly Auschwitz survivor Zev (Christopher Plummer) seeks to find and murder the Nazi commander who liquidated his family 70 years before, but encroaching dementia often causes him to forget his mission. Disappointingly, Egoyan’s slack direction and Benjamin August’s wan screenplay shortchange both strands of the narrative’s fiber: the need for overcoming psychological and neurological repression to achieve catharsis, and the legacy of the Shoah in the 21st century.

Guided by written instructions from a fellow vengeful survivor (an underused Martin Landau), Zev visits a series of German émigrés who share his tormentor’s alias, but the encounters yield little insight. Egoyan makes legitimate if unsubtle points about the ease of obtaining firearms and eluding authorities if you present a benign exterior, and deserves credit for not making a quirky Nazi-hunting road movie like Paolo Sorrentino’s This Must Be the Place. In fact, save for a charged segment with an unsettling Dean Norris as one émigré’s son, the film remains relatively placid until the final Shyamalan-like twist.

By turns haunted and defiant in his portrayal of Zev, Plummer is the film’s raison d’être and nearly its salvation. But in making senility the engine of the piece and siphoning its heft from the Holocaust, Egoyan manages to trivialize both. His film is as lost and confused as its hero.