Sunday, July 16, 2017

AMNESIA: Marthe Keller stars in the versatile Barbet Schroeder's latest surprise


Say what you will about the career of Iranian-born, raised-in-African-and-South-America, studied-at-the-Sorbonne director, writer and often producer, Barbet Schroeder, but this hugely versatile and usually successful fellow seems to be able to make movies both documentary (Terror's Advocate) and narrative, the latter in multitudinous genres -- from More to Maîtresse, Barfly, Reversal of Fortune and now his latest addition, an intimate little drama of past, present, guilt and sound, entitled AMNESIA.

Mr. Schroeder, shown at left, certainly chooses interesting projects, as a quick scan of his IMDB resume will prove. His latest, the bittersweet story of a German expat woman in her senior years coming to terms with her past, also gives this senior-years filmmaker (he'll be 76 next month) the opportunity to explore things like guilt, courage, memory and retribution.

For his lead actress and star, Schroeder is fortunate to have a woman who seems to have grown ever more beautiful and able over the years. That would be Marthe Keller, shown below and further below, who plays a character named Martha, about whom we know almost nothing as the film begins. By its end we've learned plenty.

Though set on the uber-photogenic island of Ibiza (in the 1990s), Amnesia deals more with Germany than with Spain, where a German fellow named Jo, played by the current face and body of young Germany, Max Riemelt (below, of The Wave, Free Fall and the often silly but lots of fun Netflix series Sense8), moves in nearby the gorgeous house occupied by Martha and begins what becomes a fast friendship.

Jo has come to Ibiza to work on his music, as well as (or so he hopes) perform as a DJ in a local club (named Amnesia), and soon we and Martha are listening to his music, learning a little about him, and watching as this May/November friendship grows.

Martha is keeping a lot of secrets, and the closer our pair grows, the more we and Jo learn about this lovely, buttoned-up lady. Those secrets involved Martha's past, as well as Germany's, and when Jo's mother (Corinna Kirchhoff), second from right, below and grandfather (played by the great Bruno Ganz, below center and two photos down, the face and body of an older Germany) come for a visit, the shit -- quietly and understatedly -- hits the proverbial fan.

Much of this movie is devoted to sound -- Jo's music, and the quiet, lovely conversations between him and Martha -- and the secrets, those of Martha as well as the grandfather, are revealed simply via talk. This makes the movie much less melodramatic than it might have been in the hands of other filmmakers and/or cast members.

Instead, we are forced to slowly and quietly confront what we see, hear and learn, and then make what we can of it all. There are no villains here, only people who had to make urgent, sometimes horrible decisions, resulting in guilt that leads to a kind of forced amnesia.

And yet the movie, thanks to its simply gorgeous location scenery and its even, thoughtful tone, is never difficult to endure. In fact, it is a genuine pleasure to see and hear Ms Keller in a role that makes such fine use of her skills. Ditto Mr. Riemelt, and the rest of the small cast.

Especially well-done is the very genuine and loving relationship that develops between Martha and Jo and which, though we do not see its consummation, becomes a momentarily physical one, too, I suspect. This sort of thing is tricky, but it handled here about as well as can be.

Mr. Schroeder, as co-writer (with Emilie Bickerton, Peter F. Steinbach and Susan Hoffman), frames his story as mostly flashback, with its opening and closing segments set a decade hence. This works well, too, giving us both closure and a lovely sense of necessary continuity.

From Film Movement and running just 96 minutes, Amnesia opens theatrically this Friday, July 21, in New York City at the Cinema Village, and will then hit several other cities in the weeks to come. (It opens in South Florida at the Coral Gables Art Cinema on Friday, August 11.) Click here then scroll down to view all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters. For those of you not in or near the cities where the film will open theatrically, it will simultaneously be available to view on July 21, via VOD.

Note: Barbet Schroeder will be at the opening night 
screening at New York City's Cinema Village this
Friday, July 21, to introduce the film and do a Q&A.

2 comments:

Michael E. Rosenberg said...

BTW, Barbet Schroeder will be at the opening night screening at Cinema Village this Friday to introduce the film and do a Q&A.

James van Maanen said...

Thanks, Michael!
I have added this info at the end of my post.