Directed by Atom Egoyan
Produced by Robert Lantos / Ari Lantos
Written by Benjamin August
Running time: 95 minutes
PUBLICITY CONTACTS Media Contact:Wendy Saffer, Serendipity
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Italian Publicity:Federica de Sanctis, Bim Distribuzione
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International Publicity/Venice:Liz Miller, Premier
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International Publicity/Post-Venice:Bonnie Voland, IM Global
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Remember Press Notes
Log-line Remember is a compelling thriller in which the darkest chapter of the 20th century collides with a contemporary mission of revenge.
Synopsis Remember is the contemporary story of Zev, (Academy Award® Winner Christopher Plummer), who discovers that the Nazi guard who murdered his family some 70 years ago is living in America under an assumed identity. Despite the obvious challenges, Zev sets out on a mission to find the guilty man and deliver long-delayed justice with his own trembling hand. What follows is a remarkable cross-continent road-trip with surprising consequences.
About the Production
Remember, is a compelling thriller in which the darkest chapter of the 20th century collides with a contemporary mission of revenge. Remember is an original screenplay written by Benjamin August.
Directed by Academy Award® Nominee and Cannes Grand Prix Winner, Atom Egoyan (Ararat, The Sweet Hereafter), and produced by Robert Lantos (Barney’s Version, Eastern Promises) and Ari Lantos (Stage Fright, The Right Kind of Wrong), Remember stars Academy Award® winner Christopher Plummer, supported by Academy Award® Winner Martin Landau (Ed Wood), Dean Norris (“Breaking Bad”), Bruno Ganz (Downfall), Jürgen Prochnow (Das Boot), Henry Czerny (“Revenge”) and Heinz Lieven (This Must Be The Place).
Executive Producers are Mark Musselman (Being Julia), Anant Singh (Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom) and Jens Meurer (The Last Station) is co-producer. Other executive producers include: Moises Cosio, Jeff Sagansky, Larry Guterman, D. Matt Geller and Mike Porter.
Remember is produced by Serendipity Point Films in association with Distant Horizon, Detalle, Telefilm Canada and Egoli Tossell. Leading film financing, sales and distribution company IM Global is handling international sales excluding North America. Entertainment One will distribute in Canada, ARP in France, Wild Bunch in Italy and Spain, Asmik Ace in Japan and Sun in Latin America.
Serendipity Point Films’ credits include Academy Award® Nominated and Golden Globe Winners Barney’s Version, Eastern Promises, Being Julia and Sunshine. For more information, please visit www.serendipitypoint.com
In the 40 years that award-winning producer Robert Lantos of Serendipity Point Films has been reading scripts and making films, he has never had an experience like this: a script from a novice screenwriter lands on his desk, sent to him by Jeff Sagansky, former president of CBS Entertainment and co-president of Sony Pictures Entertainment. He reads it and decides it has to be made into a film immediately.
It was simple and instantaneous.
Straight away, a second decision is made. As he was reading the screenplay, one actor’s face started to hover in Lantos’ mind. “The hero is 90 years old. There are not a lot of actors in that age range that can carry a feature film on their shoulders. As I was reading the script I knew exactly who could and who should play it.” Christopher Plummer had to play the lead role of Zev, a 90-year-old Holocaust survivor, skirting the edges of full blown dementia, a man who leaves the comfort and security of his assisted-living residence to find, and kill, the Nazi who murdered his family.
“The casting process on this film was unlike any other experience I’ve had on a movie,” recalled Ari Lantos, also producer on Remember. “It was a list of one for the role of Zev: Christopher Plummer. We probably wouldn’t have made the film if he didn’t want to do it.”
“Truth be told,” admitted screenwriter Benjamin August, “I had Christopher Plummer in my head the whole time I was writing.”
The Material Robert Lantos had no interest in revisiting the subjects of the Holocaust and dementia because he had already dealt with them in previous films. And yet, Remember was something very different. It is an intimate story, set in the present, but triggered by an event 70 years ago. “The macro events from the past, permeating our present, which bleed into the present, shape this unusual story of extraordinary revenge,” said Lantos.
In the decade leading up to this confluence of events, there has been an increasing awareness that there were WWII war criminals at large, still unaccounted for, but aging nonetheless. Operation Last Chance was launched in 2002 by the Simon Wiesenthal Center with a mission statement to track down ex-Nazis still in hiding.
But for Zev Guttman, the story begins with the death of his wife. Zev wakes up with a shudder and calls out his wife’s name – Ruth. It takes a few moments, and then he remembers she passed away a week earlier. On the last night of sitting shiva (the Jewish ritual of mourning), his wheelchair-bound friend Max (played by Martin Landau), also 90, gently hands him an envelope and tells him to open it in private. When Zev does, he finds a thick letter and a stack of hundred dollar bills. As he reads the words Max has written, he becomes immensely moved because it is telling him about a promise Zev made to Max - to track down Rudy Kurlander, the man both Max and Zev were after. Zev then packs a small bag and in the middle of that night, quietly slips away to a waiting taxi whose driver already knows Zev’s first destination. The journey towards destiny begins.
This is a story about a man who takes what energy he has left in his life and, driven by instructions and memory, invests it in one defining act of vengeance. It is sad and tender and nerve-racking. Lantos’ reaction to the material was both visceral and instinctive, particularly when he decided who should direct. Atom Egoyan. “Remember is a combination of character study, suspense and revelation upon revelation. This is Atom Egoyan territory. He is brilliant at peeling the layers away.”
“This is the last story that can be told about this period [in history] in our present day,” Egoyan pointed out, speaking to people’s need for a final chance at justice. In more ways than one, Egoyan views Remember as a ‘companion piece’ to his earlier work, Ararat (which also starred Plummer and was produced by Lantos), in that, “it addresses the residual effects of history over time and how we form ourselves particularly when one’s history involves trauma. This notion of how time and trauma are refracted through generations is at the core of so much of the material that I'm interested in. Certainly, that's the theme of Ararat which we are seeing in this film as well: the effects of these historic events on the children of the perpetrators, the children of the survivors, refracted in very unexpected ways. You can't predict what that effect will be, and that washes through the film.”
In addition to the potency of the historical themes in Remember, Egoyan gravitated to the quality of the story which Ari Lantos declared “a contemporary thriller with nuanced performances, which is why Atom was the right guy to tackle that.”
“It’s a shockingly original story with a character unlike any we've ever seen,” Egoyan elaborated. “I've made 15 features, a few of them from scripts I haven't written. But not only is this one completely original, I think what Ben August has presented speaks of our relationship to horror in such an extraordinarily unique way. It’s simple on one level, something easy to relate to, and yet, so full of layers and complexity.”
Egoyan’s compositional eye tells the narrative with uncompromising devotion to the singular storyline. The plot, motivated by the past, but without conventional reliance on flashbacks, plays out completely in the present, free of sentimentality or manipulation.
Rooting for the old guy Take everything Hollywood endorses about youth-obsessed celebrity and push that aside. Remember hinges on the age of the characters and the actors who deliver their stories. Not only are the war criminals from WWII aging, but so are their victims. This was essential for Benjamin August.
“A movie about an old man getting revenge - that in itself will make you nervous. How is he going to travel? Is he going to fall? Having an old man with dementia makes the quest exponentially harder. And that’s where the Max character comes in.” Max and Zev are partners. Zev has the mobility – Max has the plan, guiding him step-by-step by the letter and on the phone. August added, “If my grandparents went on a journey like this, it’d be terrifying. I mean, my grandma’s fallen just walking down the street to the café. Every step is nerve-racking and the fact that Zev gets so far, meets all these people, and overcomes these obstacles -- it’s what’s really going to keep people in it.”
It is an easier story to have youthful characters go out in a blaze of light, but these characters are old men, their bodies are worn and their illusions are shattered. Zev is no Dirty Harry, but he survived the war and made a new life for himself, a new family and with the help of Max, he’s ventured back into the world and is making his last stand.
Calibrating the Tension with Cinematography Egoyan’s style of using long master shots to tell the story and then developing rhythms within a scene has served him well to elicit specific emotions from the audience. For Remember, he has taken it further. The word used for this camera style and the rhythm is ‘jagged’ and to achieve that, multi-award-winning cinematographer, Paul Sarossy, was once again Egoyan’s collaborator.
Sarossy said, “Our creative relationship has developed so there’s less and less dialogue between us because we are very frequently on the same wavelength. From a visual point of view, one thing that’s very different with this project, than with films Atom has done in the past, is that it’s almost entirely shot hand-held. That was a notion we had a long while back so that the presence of Zev’s late wife is accompanying him throughout. The camera is alive and even in the most still situation, it’s slightly moving.”
It is here the personality of the camerawork deepens as it covers Zev shifting in and out of his reality. Sarossy continued, “The unsteady camerawork informs, even on a subconscious level. This man is old, infirm, has the onset of dementia, so he’s unsteady in many ways and so is the vantage point of the camera and ultimately of the viewer.”
As a cinematographer, Sarossy has the enviable task of working with this particular cast. “These amazing faces are landscapes in themselves. They have incredible texture and form that is quite different than the norm. It’s definitely a great place for the lens to settle upon. We’re not necessarily romanticizing those faces -we’re embracing the fact that they are filled with life.”
On Christopher Plummer Remember marks a reunion for Robert Lantos, Christopher Plummer and Atom Egoyan. Ararat had been a very good experience all around and Egoyan continued to be a great fan of Plummer’s work. “I’ve gone to see all his shows in Stratford and on Broadway, and read his autobiography, In Spite of Myself, twice - to the point where I can actually tell him stories about his own life that he's forgotten.”
But in addition to his dazzling body of work, Christopher Plummer is an experience in his own right. “The visit at his home in Connecticut many months ago, allowed for an amazing opportunity,” Egoyan recalled. “It was early morning, and he'd come out of the shower, his wet hair was slicked back and I declared, "that's the way you're going to look in this movie because you look so different from the Christopher Plummer I've seen before.” That was the beginning of our collaboration in creating Zev.”
“This is a different performance than we've seen Chris play,” Egoyan continued, noting that the character is older than the actor. “It’s a naturalist performance, but there is something so unnatural about this person’s circumstances. And the tension provides a particular alchemy which Chris is able to harness very specifically.”
Harness it, indeed. “Chris is an acting machine,” Egoyan added. “Not only is he one of the most finely-tuned actors in the world, he also has stamina. His incredible vitality is why you could still see him doing Lear or Prospero [which he performed last in 2010]. These roles are still within his range. He's just an extraordinary life force.”
“I thought it was marvelous,” said Christopher Plummer, describing his initial reaction to the script sent to him by Lantos (“Thank god Robert got the material,” he added as an offside). “I thought it was original, shocking, intense and economically written. It wasn’t like a first draft. It was like the 30th draft. It was a very unusual script and an extraordinary role - totally different from what I’ve ever done before. So, I took the bait.”
Actors of Plummer’s caliber have the privilege of considering bait judiciously. What snared him was this: “The mystery of the man, his heart, his demeanor, which is slightly out of control most of the time because of his supposed dementia. Because it is early dementia, it goes back and forth throughout the film. That was rather interesting to play for a start and worth the challenge. And then the mystery of the film was wonderful, the suspense – it’s a terrific thriller.”
The portrayal of Zev might appear, to some, to be restrained either by physical limitations, by his dementia or by fear of confrontation. But to Plummer, that is only partially the case. Zev “also offers a huge chance to do anything you want. It has a freedom that has nothing to do with the lines as written. Everything is behind the lines, all the intentions and motives, the carryings on behind the dialogue. So, you’re in a funny way playing against the dialogue all the time, which is great. I love that.”
The work, which for Plummer is central to the entire experience on a film, extends beyond the character itself. He revealed a very flattering bit of information: it was not just the producers who wanted Egoyan on this project. “I asked for Atom too, because I needed a friend to hold my hand through this. It’s a very difficult journey. It’s wonderful working with him again. He has such a fine mind and he’s a great help to me. He’s always reminding me to slow down, not to run so fast. You see, I’m so old that I think I need to get places faster than anybody else. That’s what you feel like when you’re old like I am.” So he would say, “No, no, you actually are old so would you move slower please. And of course, because the character is German, his accent in English has to be subtle, but always present. So, little things like that are an enormous help. I adore Atom, and without him I don’t know what I would’ve done.”
An Embarrassment of Riches Filmmaking invariably offers a wide array of creative rewards to cast and crew involved, but on Remember, the convergence of quality material combined with the opportunity to work with legendary actors is worthy of note, especially when the director, producers and cast all felt rewarded by the company they were keeping.
“It’s dizzying,” Egoyan said. “You have a front row seat to these extraordinary moments where these exceptional human beings get to embody other people. But you also see them as themselves and realize that they have their own mythology. They are, of course, consummate actors, and they are the history of everything they've played, and what they bring to the set is just so extraordinary. They know their own instrument, their own body so well, what they can do with it, and what they’re able to play with, and to see them play off of each other - I mean, these are amazing moments.”
The moments included Martin Landau and Christopher Plummer together trading their stories of old Hollywood, the people they'd worked with and the intersections between their lives and careers. Add into that mix the legendary German actors Bruno Ganz, Jürgen Prochnow, and Heinz Lieven and their stories of what it meant to be living in the shadow of this trauma in history, and the experience on and off camera was monumental.
Martin Landau 28 years before the filming of Remember, on the set of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents”, a young filmmaker in his 20s, Egoyan, was directing Martin Landau, who even then referred to himself as “an old hand”. They struck up a friendship that lasted years. “I like the way he uses his brain,” Landau said. “Over the years, we've wanted to work together, and it took almost three decades, but it's finally happened, and we’ve had a very good time together.”
Landau is the wheelchair-bound Max. While Zev’s mind is going, Max is sharp as a tack. As a result of the story being focused so strongly on one character, Egoyan wanted to create two visual styles. “I wanted to frame the world of Martin’s ‘Max’, who is so incapacitated, very rigidly, formal and composed, versus for Zev, where there’s an element of something untethered with a sense that he is being observed,” said Egoyan.
They are a team, Max and Zev, even though they are operating at great distances from each other. The quest has been thought out in meticulous detail, with instructions Zev doggedly follows.
“I like characters with arcs and reasons for being,” Landau remarked. “And I like scripts that are intelligent. Remember had all of those qualities. And, at this age, it’s wonderful to get character-driven roles that have substance.” This comes from an actor who is more than happy to detail how filmmaking has changed since 1939: “The writing isn't as good, and the topics aren't as good. That's why, again, I'm happy to do a movie that's a literate, well-written, grammatical, intelligent film.
Dean Norris Bringing Dean Norris on to play John Kurlander was Egoyan’s idea. Benjamin August was taken by surprise by this choice, but something about Norris’ “Breaking Bad” performance caused him to agree with it immediately. That ‘something’ was that Norris really is “so gentle and sweet. He’s the guy who lights up the room,” observed August as Norris moved around on set. “But there’s also something that can be so demented and scary about him. And when he gets angry [in character], you don’t want to be the person he’s pointing his anger at.”
Dean Norris was another actor Egoyan met previously at the film festival in Rome (clearly, there is a pattern here with Egoyan). They became friends and swore they would work together one day. The role of John Kurlander, like much of the rest of the film, is deceptively simple, and coils out in a way that cannot be predicted. The key is performance. Norris’ Kurlander, one of several Kurlanders in the story, “takes up a good 10, 15 minutes of the film,” noted Egoyan. “Between Zev and John, there is such a strong projection of what they think the other person means to them, and it's so out of whack. And so, you have these two performers who really seem to be connecting, but they're not at all, and this meant that we needed finely-tuned performances. It's actually at the core of the film within the film, and it was a blessing.”
Norris, who is a man with a very generous spirit, states plainly that he would have done this film for nothing more than the chance to work with Egoyan and Plummer. But his scenes, his ‘mini-movie’ as he puts it, “put the cherry on top. My character has just lost his father and it's easy for him to project upon the Christopher Plummer character that he's his father in some way, or he misses his father and he wants to talk to somebody who's approximately the same age. From there, it's really playing off Plummer, seeing what he does, being alive in the scene and reacting to what he brings to it, which is really fantastic to be able to do.” In actors’ terms – paradise.
The Rudy Kurlanders Actors Bruno Ganz, Jürgen Prochnow and Heinz Lieven all play characters named Rudy Kurlander. Each of them is younger than the characters they play, a point they all mentioned to Egoyan during initial talks about the film. Two of the actors, Ganz and Prochnow, born in 1941, have only fleeting memories of the last year of WWII. “I thought, in a way, mine is one of the last generations to really have a right to portray these people,” remarked Prochnow. “We grew up after the war with all that going on, in the ruins of Berlin and the rubble. And, yes, we were starving, we had diseases and as kids, we were asking all these questions to our parents, why did this happen? How could this happen? Therefore, I think this was something I very much wanted to be part of.”
“There are not many eye witnesses left,” affirmed Bruno Ganz, speaking to the importance of making a film like Remember. “In a few years there will be nobody. There’s a difference between talking to somebody who was there and saw it all during the Holocaust, and seeing movies or reading books [on the subject]. But I think if we want to remember this on another level, so that you can feel it, then we have to make movies about it.”
MAKEUP- Aging The Holy Grail of aging makeup is to ensure that the essence of the actor is not submerged under layers of substance, that it looks genuine, and that it can be accomplished swiftly each day. The danger with aging makeup, as opposed to creating aliens or creatures, is that the look of an older person is a familiar one. “Badly applied makeup can snap an audience right out of a movie and you don't want that,” observed Academy Award® Nominee Adrien Morot, who was head of makeup on Remember.
What struck Morot first when reading the script, something he does with a heavy visual emphasis, was, “How are we going to get all of these actors to be on the same level in terms of age?” It was a valid concern given many of the key cast have to play 90-year-olds and clearly, none of them are that age, yet.
The techniques used varied in curious ways. For Christopher Plummer, “it was a bit of torture every morning because we had to paint hundreds of wrinkles on his face,” said Morot, who used a superfine long brush and painted each wrinkle, one by one, as many as 80 on each side of the face, deepening crevices and accenting existing lines.
Morot’s makeup trailer was a place of many wonders. Martin Landau’s makeup, similar to that of Plummer’s, required a much steadier hand because this particular actor is a raconteur. “Martin's a man of many stories and he likes to tell his stories as you're applying the makeup, especially when other people are around. It's a lot of fun but he likes to move around when he's telling his stories. Bruno Ganz was fantastic. He’s a bit younger so we had to go the extra mile and cover him in latex. And then there was Jürgen, who is even younger. He's very healthy-looking and has this massive head of hair, a super-Richard Gere thing going on. His hair and makeup was a 2.5 hour process.”
Morot found that in his experience, “men are often a lot more easy-going in terms of aging makeup than women. Women tend to not be as fascinated with the process. They tend to be more horrified. Younger actors (of either gender) react a lot more strongly than older actors. As an actor, you get used to seeing yourself old. Then you peel that off at the end of the day, and you love the way you look because all of a sudden , you’re so young!”