'Amnesia': Cannes Review

A simple yet poignant drama with sharp historical undertones

'Reversal of Fortune' director Barbet Schroeder premiered his new film in Cannes.

Returning to the breathtaking Ibiza vistas of his 1969 feature debut, More, and once again revealing the storm brewing behind the island’s otherwise calm waters, director Barbet Schroeder offers up a touching look at unrequited love and neglected memory with the simpatico two-hander, Amnesia.

Marking the Swiss auteur’s return to Cannes after premiering his award-winning documentary Devil’s Advocate back in 2007, this simple yet poignant generational drama will play best with older audiences who can appreciate its relaxed pace and warm heart, even if the film never shies away from the darker historical issues at its core. A Croisette bow in Special Screenings should ensure additional festival play and bookings throughout Europe.

In the drug-addled hippy trip that was More (also playing Cannes in a newly restored version), Schroeder portrayed a young couple whose rustic utopia is destroyed by heroin and debauchery, their antics backed by the groovy tunes of Pink Floyd. Over 45 years later, he once again uses Ibiza as a picturesque backdrop to explore a more forbidding subject: in this case, the lasting effects of the Nazi regime on two Germans who’ve chosen to expatriate themselves on the beautiful Mediterranean isle.

Set just after the fall of the Berlin wall, the film — penned by the director and three co-writers — follows long-term Ibiza resident Martha (Marthe Keller), whose calm country lifestyle is interrupted by the arrival of a much younger neighbor Jo (Max Riemelt), a DJ and composer hoping to take advantage of the island’s famously endemic electronic music scene.

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The two immediately hit it off, and Jo clearly seems to be smitten by a carefree yet perceptive woman who’s easily twice his age, introducing her to his beatmaking process while she shows him how to live a life free of all worry. Although Jo is German, the two only speak in English, even if it’s obvious to everyone else that Martha understands the language. (In that sense the script is rather flawed: Expats hailing from the same country can usually sniff each out after one or two conversations.)

As the would-be couple revels in the laid-back pastoral bliss, they grow more and more affectionate but never cross the line into a romantic relationship, Martha putting the brakes on anything physical. Instead, they tease out one another’s thoughts and feelings, which are eventually compromised when Jo discovers Martha’s true origins and we begin to realize that Amnesia doesn’t only refer to the popular nightclub where the DJ hopes to headline, but to Germany’s collective process of forgetting.

If many of the early scenes are simply staged and the dialogue not always convincing despite strong performances from both leads, the drama eventually comes to a head when Jo’s mother (Corinna Kirchhoff) and grandfather (Bruno Ganz) stop by for a visit. It’s then that the tragic memories of WWII rise to the surface, with the excellent Ganz (Wings of Desire) delivering a lengthy monologue underlining the reality that Martha has neglected for so many years.

Filmed in crisp and colorful imagery by veteran Luciano Tovoli (Suspiria), with production designer Franckie Diago (Heading South) keeping the interiors sparsely decorated, Amnesia uses its gorgeous surroundings to the fullest. A soothing electro score by famed DJ Lucien Nicolet (aka Luciano) adds further to the peaceful ambiance, even if Schroeder ultimately shows us that such peace always comes at a price. 

Production companies: Vega Film, Les Films du Losange
Cast: Marthe Keller, Max Riemelt, Bruno Ganz, Corinna Kirchoff
Director: Barbet Schroeder
Screenwriters: Emilie Bickerton, Peter Steinbach, Susan Hoffman, Barbet Schroeder
Producers: Ruth Waldburger, Margaret Menegoz
Director of photography: Luciano Tovoli
Production designer: Franckie Diago
Editor: Nelly Quettier
Composer: Lucien Nicolet
International sales: Les Films du Losange

No rating, 90 minutes

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