Director: Atom Egoyan
Writing Credit: Benjamin August
Cast: Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau
Rated: 14A; language, violence, dementia
Genre: Drama, thriller
Duration: 95 minutes
I wanted to love Remember, Atom Egoyan’s most straightforward, accessible movie in years. After the debacle that was last year’s The Captive and the critical shoulder shrug that greeted Devil’s Knot in 2013, this thoughtful, thought-provoking Canadian filmmaker seemed due for a hit.
So let’s leave aside the way the film unravelled (for me at least) in its closing moments, leaving a bad taste and more than one “yes, but if this then …” questions. Let’s look instead at its first 90 minutes, which unspool in a wonderfully, deceptively linear way.
Zev, played by Christopher Plummer, is living in an old age home in New York and starting to lose his mind. His wife of many decades has just passed away, yet every time he awakes her name is on his lips, and he has to be reminded that she is no more.
Helping Zev deal with his loss is Max (Martin Landau) an old friend with an agenda. He reminds Zev of an agreement they’ve had since before Ruth died; Zev is going to skip town and track down Rudy Kurlander, an 88-year-old German immigrant whose real name is Otto Walisch.
It was under that name that “Rudy” ordered the deaths of Zev’s and Max’s families at Auschwitz during the Second World War. The only wrinkle in the plan – aside from Zev’s rapidly deteriorating memory – is that there are four Rudy Kurlanders in North America of the correct age and nationality.
So, like a cross between the 100-year-old man who climbed out the window and disappeared and – well, the Terminator, tracking down all the Sarah Connors in 1984 Los Angeles – Zev sets out to find his prey. “They never go far,” the home’s supervisor tells his distraught offspring, by which point Zev is already on a train and halfway to Cleveland.
There are a few other snatches of humour in the story, not least of which is how Zev manages to casually procure a Glock (an Austrian gun, the seller tells him, though many people assume it’s German) and then almost accidentally carry it into Canada and back on one of his Kurlander-searching side trips. But Egoyan keeps the tension high with a Hitchcockianly suspenseful score, heavy on violins and piccolos.
Meanwhile there is Plummer, now a spry 85, turning in a brilliantly nuanced performance. Zev – which means wolf, by the way – is a man propelled by vengeance, a sense of justice and world-weariness, itself fueled by the death of his wife and because he’s been on this planet such a long time, dealing with the lingering afterimage of an almost inconceivably brutal event.
But the details if not their emotional impact are fading in Zev’s mind, giving his quest a Memento-like quality as he reads and re-reads Max’s handwritten note for guidance and reassurance. The Rudys, meanwhile, are a diverse and fascinating bunch; one of them, Bruno Ganz, is remembered for a simmering portrayal of Adolf Hitler in 2004’s Downfall. And Dean Norris (Breaking Bad) stands out as a second-generation Nazi.
It’s almost enough to forgive the final-act twist. Rest assured this is a delicately crafted and enjoyable film. And if for some reason you have to duck out early, you might even enjoy it a little more.
Remember opens in limited release on Oct. 23
On March 18, the HBO cable television network premiered “Walkout,” a film based on the 1968 protest by thousands of Mexican American students from five East Lost Angeles high schools.
On March 27, some 40,000 high school students in Southern California walked out to protest of anti-immigration legislation. “Walkout” director Edward James Olmos was right when he said the struggle for equality and civil rights is far from over.
Back in 1968, Latino students were tired of racial injustice, discrimination in the school system and lack of equal opportunities. The youth came together and led a multi-school walkout that became part of the rising Chicano movement. “Walkout” shares that historic story.
The movie shows how students organized walkouts after lobbying the school board for improved facilities, bilingual education, revised textbooks and the ability to speak Spanish in class without being reprimanded.
The youth-led movement, inspired by the civil rights movement, also demanded implemention of a curriculum that included Latin American history, and elimination of janitorial work as punishment.
“Our schools are the back of the bus,” yelled one student leader in the movie.
The walkouts were peaceful demonstrations that erupted into unnecessary acts of violence when an overzealous and aggressive racist police force beat and arrested unarmed students.
An outraged community was awakened and a fight for justice was born that first got parents involved, then community leaders, eventually forcing the school board to pay attention.
In the end the Chicano movement produced real changes, increasing Latino college enrollment by nearly 25 percent two years after the protest.
Moctesuma Esparza, who produced the film, was a college student at the time.
He was one of the main organizers of the student walkouts of that time and was arrested with 12 others — “East L.A. 13,” as they became known. All were eventually acquitted.
“I remember, growing up in the ’50s, when someone said you were ‘Mexican’ it was almost like being slapped in the face,” the 57-year-old recalled in a recent interview with the Houston Chronicle.
Esparza went on to say, “How one’s ancestry could be pejorative is hard to grasp today, but there have been people who have experienced discrimination and overcame it, and that’s one of the things we were looking to do, to stand up for our rights and be treated like all other Americans.
“The free speech movement of ’64 at Berkeley, the civil rights movement of Dr. Martin Luther King, what Cesar Chavez was doing in the fields and the growing women’s movement were all very vivid examples to us.
“There was a feeling we could change the world,” he concluded. “That’s what protected and motivated us.”
While some have said it’s not the best-made film, its focus on this youth-led struggle is inspirational for activists today. Young people are still under attack by reactionary policies, racism, poor education and a war going on. With united struggle, change is possible.
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