Christopher Plummer in Remember

Venice Film Festival 2015: ‘Remember’ + ‘From Afar’

Remembering why we like Atom Egoyan.

Hats off to the Venice Film Festival schedulers. Fully aware that by this stage many of us hardy festival folk are starting to wilt, they made sure to throw in a burst of adrenaline to get the blood pumping again. It certainly worked. As I sat down for the first in an evening double bill, I must admit my mind was elsewhere. That didn’t last long. What’s most surprising is the film chosen for the task.

It’s been a long time since I was last excited by a new Atom Egoyan film. The Canadian director, once such a fine reader of human nature, appeared to have lost his way. Many recent attempts felt like he was treading water, some turned out to be actively bad. A holocaust revenge thriller sounded like he was sinking ever further. What a fool I look now. Remember confounded all my expectations, ratcheting up the tension throughout until it exploded in a shocking finalé.

Christopher Plummer, an eminently watchable actor, plays an aging Auschwitz survivor living in America. Following the death of his wife, he sets out to track down the camp officer directly responsible for the loss of his entire family.

It’s not quite that simple, though. Catch one: the SS officer is working under an assumed name. It’s been narrowed down to one of four people but he has to go to each in turn to find his man. Catch two: he’s suffering from dementia, Memento style; he frequently wakes up unaware of where he is or what he’s meant to be doing. He even writes reminders on his arm.

Plummer is superb in this role, and the film never lets up, building to one of the best endings I’ve seen in a while. I went in tired and left buzzing.

With only a 15-minute break in-between, there wasn’t time to do much before From Afar, my second, and final film of the day. The debut of Venezuelan director Lorenzo Vigas, it charts a burgeoning relationship between middle-aged denture maker Armando (Alfredo Castro), and a thuggish young man (Luis Silva).

It’s not really a romance, though. Armando is the living embodiment of the title, operating a world apart from everyone else. It’s not just his sexuality that’s left him in this situation, despite the aggressive intolerance all around. Physical intimacy of any kind is a no no, even with another man.

There are excellent moments, but it’s hard to make a film focussed on such a distant character, without the story succumbing to the same trait. From Afar is no exception, though it remains a credible effort.

After enjoying these two films, both in the main competition, I called time and headed home.