Sunday, March 18, 2018

A24 A-to-Z: #30. "Remember" (2016)

Scene from Remember
In case you didn't know, A24 is one of the great purveyors of modern cinema. Since 2013, the studio has found a way to innovate independent cinema by turning each release into an event. As a result, A24 A-to-Z will be an ongoing series that looks at every release from the studio by analyzing its production history, release, criticisms, and any awards attention that it might've received. Join me on a quest to explore the modern heroes of cinema by exploring every hit and miss that comes with that magnificent logo. They may not all be great, but they more than make A24 what it is and what it will hopefully continue to be for ears to come.

Released: March 11, 2016 
Release Number: 30
Directed By: Atom Egoyan
Starring: Christopher Plummer, Kim Roberts, Amanda Smith
Plot: With the aid of a fellow Auschwitz survivor and a hand-written letter, an elderly man with dementia goes in search of the person he believes to be responsible for the death of his family in the death camp to kill him himself.

The year 2016 was already looking to be a great year for A24 following the critically acclaimed The Witch, which also was their first film openly endorsed by Satanists. Their follow-up would see the return of director Atom Egoyan, who two years previously gave the studio The Captive. This time around, he found an even more complicated story to share in the small character drama Remember, which focused on the struggles of the Holocaust through a modern prism. It was a small film, and one whose third act brought with it a great conversation as to whether it was exploitative or not. Whatever the case may be, it was one of the DirecTV division's most successful films critically, and that was enough to prove that things may have been getting better for the studio.

The story begins with writer Benjamin August's journey to Vietnam. When he returned to America with his Vietnamese wife, he discovered some shocking details. For starters, he noticed that people were forgetting about the Vietnam War, and that there was a strange lack of film roles for older actors. He believed that older actors were genuinely more sympathetic anyways, so the pattern was bizarre. As a Jewish-American, he chose to focus on another story that was being forgotten: the Holocaust. At the time of writing, the last of the deniers were dying off and the few surviving Nazis were also being brought to trial. He felt that it would be more important to explore a modern context. With Atom Egoyan being of Armenian descent, he related to the story's emphasis on not letting go of the past, as his relatives were part of the Armenian genocide. 

There was always going to be one choice for the lead role. Egoyan wanted Christopher Plummer, whom he had worked with before on Aratat in 2002. While there was concern for the aging actor's health, Plummer took on the role with a certain sensitivity towards the character's dementia, of which many of his friends were suffering from. The script even went through dementia groups that made sure its depiction of the elderly was accurate. While they didn't all play Nazis, the supporting cast featured actors who played Nazis in some capacity over the decades, most notably Bruno Ganz, who famously played Adolf Hitler in Downfall. There were also small moments of symbolism scattered throughout the film, such as the choice to name a dog Eva, after Hitler's mistress. 

The film shot in Ontario, Canada in April 2014. The production was largely uneventful, though there was one scene where Plummer was going to be given a stunt double. Plummer, who was in good health, didn't want that because he felt it insulted his age. In the scene, he was requested to shoot a gun. He claimed that it had "a kick like an elephant," and used his fear of shooting it in the performance. There was also a subtext to his performance where muscle memory performed such defensive moves as shooting to injure and not kill. Considering Egoyan's fondness for the subject, he gave the performance plenty of attention and made sure that even the small details were perfectly placed. 

The film premiered at Venice International Film Festival in 2014 to positive reviews and received a 10 minute standing ovation. Many praised its unique take on the Holocaust, though others recognized its somewhat odd ending. It was a film that was different than most dramas of the subject, which played to its benefit. The film was bought by A24 and distributed as well by DirecTV, where it would receive a late December video on demand release. When it made it to theaters the following March, it was a very modest success, managing to draw in more than the average A24/DirecTV pairing. On a $13 million budget, it made $3.6 million internationally. However, it was considered a flop in Canada, where the film was shot, making less than $800,000. 

In terms of DirecTV movies, it was also highly rated by critics compared to most. It received a 73% on critics aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes. The reviews were mostly positive, but not without one or two divisive comments. Scott Marks of the San Diego Reader reflected the general praise of critics, claiming that "There is no actor currently at work capable of embodying the complexity of this character like Plummer." Kathy Fennessey of The Stranger also noted that it was one of Egoyan's best movies in years, writing "After over a decade of more misses than hits, Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan returns to the character-driven intrigues of his early career." Richard Roeper of Chicago Sun-Times was one of the most popular dissenters, claiming that "Atom Egoyan's bold but often ludicrous Remember plays a like a mash-up of The Terminator, Marathon Man and Memento, as filtered through the lens of an old Twilight Zone episode." Still, it was better than most DirecTV movies up to that point.

Remember was a decent success, especially given that it was a very conflicting story. Who would want to see a movie about the Holocaust through an old man's eyes? Thanks to Egoyan's earnestness, he found a way to make it compelling enough for audiences to explore the mystery with him. It wasn't A24's most popular movie, but it was more evidence that their risky movies could have an impact when allowed to take chances. It exemplified a B-Level film for the studio that unfortunately didn't get made much, and showed that even the Holocaust has a lot more advantages when telling the story. Would the next film from the studio hold a candle to The Witch and Remember's striking stories? Krisha had a lot to live up to, but chances were that it was going to be another one of those niche hits that made 2016 a great year for the studio. 

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