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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26

Egoyan’s Road Trip

Jorge Ignacio Castillo
Published Thursday December 10, 05:17 pm
One of Canada’s best directors goes back to the basics

Roxy Theatre
Dec. 10-14

The last couple of years have been particularly hard for Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan. Critics blasted his adaptation of the West Memphis Three ordeal, Devil’s Knot, and they called his thriller The Captive “generic”. Audiences didn’t show up for either.

This isn’t the response the director of The Sweet Hereafter and Felicia’s Journey is used to receiving.

His new film, Remember, is the definition of “return to form”. A tightly plotted thriller about a concentration camp survivor (Christopher Plummer) looking for revenge while grappling with memory loss, Remember plays to the director’s strengths. Egoyan gets a lot of mileage out of the cast and injects heavy emotional weight into the proceedings.

I met Atom Egoyan during the Toronto Film Festival in September. Willing to talk about his failures as much as his triumphs, the filmmaker is often baffled by what has worked and what hasn’t. Egoyan often interrupts himself mid-phrase (a nightmare to transcribe), as he discovers layers under his more off-the-cuff answers.

How do you feel Remember connects with the rest of your filmography?

It connects with my really early work. In my first feature, Next of Kin, I used handheld camera and was obsessed with the idea of a central character that was missing. In Remember there’s a missing wife. Every time the Christopher Plummer character wakes up he is thinking about this absence. I love the idea that the handheld camera is the spirit of his wife watching him. That makes the film much more direct.

There are also recurring themes from previous films, like trauma, memory and justice.

True, but in this case, the main character is not aware of any of that because of his dementia. Having him controlled like a puppet, and reacting to ideas coming from a place he couldn’t access, felt very unique — almost radical.

Rememberalso works as a road movie, as the character roams across North America looking for his tormentor. Did you have a reference point?

I didn’t want it to be like Nebraska, where you’re luxuriating on the landscapes. I wanted to be very functional, so the audience stays focused on Plummer’s face.

You’ve worked with both Christopher Plummer and Martin Landau before. Was it an easy decision to cast them?

I thought of them immediately and hoped they would be as excited as I was. The casting of the German actors was more difficult.  They needed to be of the same generation and also be believable as long-time U.S. residents. That really limited my choices. Hardy Kruger (Barry Lyndon) didn’t want to do it and Maximilian Schell passed away.

So you went with Jürgen Prochnow and Bruno Ganz, who are younger.

Yes. Then it became difficult because Bruno doesn’t do cameos. I met him in Munich and turns out he was a huge fan of Chloe, of all things. He loved the story and came to Sault Ste. Marie for a day, which is surreal.

At this point in your career, do you adapt to your actors’ style or do you expect them to adapt to you?

In the case of Chris, I knew his approach from working with him in Ararat: we did this take, he was great, but I wanted to do it again. He asked “Why? Did you like that take?” I said yes. He countered, “Is there anything specific you want me to do differently?” I said no. “Why don’t we move on?” You talk with Chris about the role, he prepares and is ready to do it. But there are other actors who [would] rather throw themselves into the moment. You have to be able to adapt to get the best performance.

In Remember you worked with actors who are well into their 80s. What kind of challenge comes with that?

They can’t do long shooting days, so you want to preserve their strength. Chris was very specific about being best before lunch. You have to respect that. Filmmaking is all about organizing your shots. There is something very tactical about it.

The scope of Remember is smaller than your other recent films. Was this a conscious decision?

It was a welcome decision. After Captive — a very complex and multilayered film — I needed to do something simpler, something that goes from point A to point B. While I was shooting Remember, I was thinking “I want to make films this simple all the time.” But it’s not the way my mind works. I’ve done three very different films back-to-back and three operas, so I’m giving myself time between now and my next project.

Do you read your reviews?

Unfortunately, I do. My wife was saying in Venice, “Don’t do this to yourself.” And I go to the negative reviews first — I want to see what’s being attacked. In the case of Captive, I go to Amazon Prime and find half the people have given it four and five stars, and I have a hard time reconciling that with the total absence of critical support. How is that possible?

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