Emotional Arithmetic



San Sebastian Film Festival

SAN SEBASTIAN, Spain -- "Emotional Arithmetic" from director Paolo Barzman, better known for helming episodic TV, is a theatrical melodrama that tries to reflect on the weight of history. It does not bring anything new to the notion that destiny can affect people's lives or prevent them from reaching happiness. Nor does it bring anything new to the genre of melodrama. Despite a global starry cast that includes Susan Sarandon, Gabriel Byrne, Max von Sydow and Christopher Plummer, the film -- a rehash of Holocaust themes -- has only limited potential in art houses.

Melanie Lansing Winters (Sarandon) is happily married, or so she thinks, to David (Plummer). They live together with a son in a nice house by a lake in Quebec. A visit by two special guests, Jakob and Christopher, will affect her life more than she would have imagined. She knew both during World War II, when she was deported as a child to the concentration camp of Drancy, France. She owes Jakob (Von Sydow) her life and has cherished the memory of her encounter with Christopher (Byrne).

The film is designed like a stage play. It hardly leaves the house or garden; most sequences bring together two or three of the characters who reveal their past stories to the audience in a classical albeit tedious path toward a climax. A few flashbacks show the encounter of Melanie and Christopher as children, and how Jakob, the Russian poet, helped them to survive. All the revelations made by the characters in the heavy dialogue, underlined by portentous camera movements.

The photography tries hard to take advantage of the autumn colors of Quebec, but it merely adds pointless romanticism. There was, indeed, material here for a subtle melodrama in this reunion of past lovers who realize their lives could have been different. Instead, all we witness are characters shouting at each other now that it is too late to change anything.

Triptych Media, DS Prods., Telefilm Canada
Director: Paolo Barzman
Screenwriter: Jefferson Lewis
Based on the novel by: Matt Cohen
Producers: Suzanne Girard, Anna Stratton
Executive producers: Paolo Barzman, Robin Cass
Director of photography: Luc Montpellier
Production designer: Jean-Francois Campeau
Music: Normand Corbeil
Costume designer: Nicoletta Massone
Editor: Arthur Tarnowski
Melanie Lansing Winters: Susan Sarandon
Christopher Lewis: Gabriel Byrne
Jakob Bronski: Max von Sydow
David Winters: Christopher Plummer
Benjamin Winters: Roy Dupuis
Timmy Winters: Dakota Goyo
Young Melanie: Regan Jewitt
Young Christopher: Alexandre Nachi
Running time -- 100 minutes
No MPAA rating