The 2000s have not been kind to filmmaker Atom Egoyan, once hailed as a visionary who could do no wrong (particularly at the Cannes Film Festivals of the mid-1990s). Egoyan’s career took an unexpected downward turn once the millennium kicked it, and from there on it’s been a slippery slope. Try as he might, he just can’t seem to get film buffs to adore him again, and his last two films, “The Devil’s Knot” and “The Captive,” have had (mainly Western) critics sighing loudly and rolling their eyes — virtually, of course.

Perhaps Egoyan hasn’t caught up with the times, or, more to the point, he refuses to do so. He’s just not that interested in online stuff. In an interview with The Japan Times two years ago, he plaintively said that it’s hard to get passionate about digital technology, whereas “snow is always interesting” to him. It’s probably no coincidence that both his last two movies and his latest, “Remember,” deal with memories and the passage of time following terrible tragedies before the world became smartphone-obsessed. And true to his remark about snow, he’s always been a master at depicting snowy streets and desolate small-town scenes that mirror the moods of his characters.

“Remember” could almost be called the finale of a trilogy — in all three of Egoyan’s works since 2013 he explores the memories of people who lost a family member (or members) to acts of violence. This may have you thinking that all those films are art-house material. On the contrary, Egoyan shows himself determined to be entertaining, despite the grimness of his stories.

Remember (Tegami wa Oboeteiru)
Run Time 94 mins;
Language English
Opens Oct. 28

“Remember” is like a detective thriller masquerading as a Holocaust tale, and from start to finish Egoyan and screenwriter Benjamin August struggle to strike the perfect balance between the intimate whodunit mystery and the historical horror that altered the course of mankind. The burden of pulling this off is shouldered mainly by lead actor Christopher Plummer and a supporting cast consisting of Martin Landau, Bruno Ganz and Jurgen Prochnow of “Das Boot” fame.

The premise: An elderly Auschwitz survivor, now plagued by dementia, decides to take revenge on the Nazi guard who killed his family 70 years ago. Various terrible flashbacks alternate with the present blood-soaked mess that ensues. Egoyan works have usually sported a somewhat decorous image, but in “Remember” he goes for a no-holds-barred approach that insists on underlining everything in thick black (or rather, red).Unlike other directors, such as Tarantino or the Coen Brothers, Egoyan makes no attempt to neutralize the brutality with irony or a dose of humor.

Rescuing “Remember” from its own mayhem but enhancing its self-seriousness is Christopher Plummer as Zev Guttman, a widower trying to fight off the symptoms of dementia. He needs clarity more than ever because his best friend and fellow Auschwitz survivor Max (Martin Landau) has tasked him with the mission of killing the Nazi officer responsible for the murder of their families. The wheelchair-bound Max can’t help physically but he writes down notes for Zev to read every day so he’ll recall what he’s supposed to do, where to go, who to track down and why.

For the first two weeks or so, Zev faces the agony of having his pain and loss renewed every single day. Gradually, though, he becomes more comfortable with his situation, and confident that he can carry out the long-overdue retribution.

Egoyan will surprise you this time: The ending is a screeching swerve toward a marshland you just didn’t know was there. In that sense, this is the best thing Egoyan has done in a long time.

“Remember” is a hard sell, but like Zev, in the end you reach a point of satisfaction and witness a job well done.

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