Director Atom Egoyan Talks Revenge and Memory In New Film 'Remember'
The Canadian director's Holocaust revenge story, starring Christopher Plummer, will get world premiere at Venice Film Festival
Atom Egoyan's new film Remember will premiere Sept. 10 at the Venice Film Festival. The film stars Christopher Plummer as a Jewish Holocaust survivor who sets out on a path of revenge after discovering that the Nazi guard who murdered his family 70 years before is still alive and living in America.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Egoyan at the Sarajevo Film Festival, where a retrospective of his works was screening.
Why did you decide to go with a Venice premiere for Remember, ahead of its showing in your hometown of Toronto?
The premiere will be in Venice [but] then two days later there will be a gala in Toronto, which has become a very important festival. However, we think that it is a career-defining performance by Christopher Plummer and we were drawn to the idea of getting as much as exposure to that performance as possible, so Venice seemed to make a ton of sense. Having a platform in Venice is very important for the European distribution of the film, although there's no question that most of the critics will be in Toronto for the gala. We always wanted the North American premiere to be in Toronto.
The film is a revenge drama that casts Christopher Plummer as an elderly Holocaust survivor intent on tracking down a former Nazi. How would you describe Plummer's role?
He plays a Holocaust survivor with early stages of dementia and thinks he has found someone responsible for killing his family in Auschwitz and goes on a revenge mission, but keeps on forgetting why. It is really a fantastic role for him -- we always promised to work together again [after Ararat] and this just seemed the perfect script for him. He is magnificent in the role. My job in this film was to keep it as simple as possible and just keep the camera trained on Chris.
How important is the idea of memory, now that the generation that lived through the horrors of the war is fast disappearing?
This film raises many issues; this is very much the last story that can be told in the present day with the characters still living. If someone [from the Holocaust] is brought to justice, will he live long enough for the sentence to be passed… The character that Plummer is playing [focuses on] that idea of people near the end of their lives still trying to find justice, and realizing that the regular channels won't serve that, which is why he takes it on himself.
Plummer's character sounds a bit like a bit of an older Charles Bronson-type.
It is a revenge film. It posits the idea that after all this time, those wounds have not healed. It is going to provoke a lot of discussion. I saw Son of Saul [the Hungarian film that won the Grand Prize at Cannes], which is so much in the moment… in the belly of the beast. This project looks at it from the distance of time, but you see that the characters of both films are still immersed in the violence of the time. You see how visceral the feelings are even after all this time has passed.
You last worked with Christopher Plummer on Ararat, which deals with the impact the Armenian genocide of 1915 had on later generations. Are there any parallels in this film?
Both stories are deeply personal. In Ararat, Plummer plays a customs officer, and interestingly enough -- I've only just realized this -- there is a scene in the new film, a very important scene, where he is dealing with a customs officer [while] trying to cross a border to find the… monster who killed his family. I'm the go-to guy when you have to have historical perversions dealt with through customs officers! But it is interesting that on the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, I am making a film called Remember which [deals] with this issue of acknowledging the past and notions of repressed or elective memory and how we understand trauma.