BYDGOSZCZ, Poland — After 27 years and a dozen films together, Atom Egoyan and DP Paul Sarossy can just about communicate telepathically. So their most recent film together, the vengeance story “Remember” — a chillingly topical exploration of racism lurking just beneath the surface of an apparently wholesome America — is all the more surprising for its departure from the style they’ve developed through the course of work from “Exotica” to “Where the Truth Lies” via “The Sweet Hereafter.”
The Canadian pair, who received together the Director Duo Award at Poland’s Camerimage fest on Friday, presented the film at a sold out screening as the final main competition film at the Opera Nova in Bydgoszcz.
Egoyan says the main character of “Remember,” introduced as a Holocaust survivor with dementia who has just lost his last anchor point, his wife Ruth, needed a visual style that was more “untethered.”
As Midwestern landscapes roll by, the director says, “The visual language is creating tension all the time.”
The plot’s sometimes-lethal interplay, meanwhile, conveys a chess game that is always on the edge of being overturned. “The whole alchemy is very different,” says Egoyan of his characters, “even though the themes are very similar to my other cinema.”
Christopher Plummer portrays Zev Guttman with a standout performance as he breaks out of his assisted-living home to embark on a cross-country trek to hunt down one of the last surviving Auschwitz commandants. Working with only the man’s pseudonym, Guttman methodically moves down his list of suspects, drifting in and out of awareness of his situation.
The film, which premiered in Venice, is the first Egoyan/Sarossy project since 2014’s “The Captive” and its challenging story of justice seeking was not easy to finance, as producer Robert Lantos said earlier this week at Camerimage.
But Egoyan knew he had a story worth fighting for with Benjamin August’s script and set about creating an impressive vehicle for a cast of heavyweight older actors from Martin Landau to Bruno Ganz and Jurgen Prochnow. An appearance by Dean Norris, known for his gritty performance as Walter White’s nemesis in “Breaking Bad,” also offers “Remember” a tense mid-film standoff.
Egoyan says Landau’s character, Max, another Holocaust survivor who pulls the strings on Guttman’s hazardous mission from his room in the senior home, where he’s wheelchair-bound, demanded a contrasting visual ethic. These scenes are shot with locked down camera, conveying a static, well-controlled world.
The film’s handheld sequences represented, in a way, “a lot less discipline than is normally the case,” says Sarossy, explaining that Egoyan, who never went to film school, usually maintains tight control over camera moves, using them sparingly to create tension or atmosphere.
The style, says Sarossy, was demanded by the story — a good approach to cinematography in general, he has learned. Indeed, “Every film needs its own style,” Egoyan says.