By Eleanor Ringel Cater
Much like Christopher Nolan’s ineffable “Memento,” “Remember” plays around with memory.
Or perhaps more accurately, with the lack thereof.
Christopher Plummer stars as Zev, an elderly Holocaust survivor who now resides at a nursing home in the Midwest. He’s recently lost his wife, but he’s been losing his memory for quite some time. So another resident, Max (Martin Landau), must remind Zev of a vow he made: Once he became a widower, he would carry out a vengeance mission the two have apparently discussed over the years. That is, Zev is to track down one Rudy Kurlander, another German émigré who, Max reminds Zev, was an SS guard at the concentration camp where they both were.
The problem is, there is not one, but four possible Rudy Kurlanders – all German émigrés who moved to the U.S. after the war. However, Max, who is in a wheelchair, has a list of addresses, so Zev is soon off and, well, not running, exactly, but you get my drift.
Packing a pistol and a pillbox in his overnight bag, Zev sets off on his quest. What he discovers is a kind of cross-section of German men of a certain generation, each with their own particular relationship to the Germany that embraced Hitler’s Final Solution. For example, one Kurlander absolutely agrees with the Nazi’s ant–Semitism, but had no idea of – or sympathy for – what was really going on in the concentration camps. He spent the war with Rommel.
Another lives in a gingerbread house worthy of Hansel and Gretel. Zev checks out a third residence and finds, among other Nazi memorabilia, a German Shepherd named Eva.
Though the movie opened this year’s Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, it’s actually less about the Holocaust than it is about an old man’s surprising journey – with a heck of a twist to help you forgive the more cloying moments (like an encounter with an adorable little boy on a train).
Canadian director Atom Egoyan, who pretty much reached his peak with “The Sweet Hereafter,” seems re-energized by the movie’s canny clockwork script and, even more so, by his star.
At 86, Plummer is as mesmerizing as he was in “The Sound of Music” (Captain von Trapp, seemingly another lifetime) or “Beginners,” for which he won a much-deserved Oscar as Best Supporting Actor.
“Remember” has its potboiler side, but that gives Egoyan – who’s always been somewhat, well, “artistic” – a much-needed structure. Going from one plot point to the next has focused him in all the right ways. Add in a sterling cast – along with Plummer and Landau, Bruno Ganz and Jurgen Prochnow – and “Remember” becomes the sort of movie that transcends genre expectations.