Published Sep 21, 2007With about as stacked a deck of actors a director could hope to acquire, Paolo Barzmans adaptation of Matt Cohens novel Emotional Arithmetic is brought to life by the ensemble talents of Susan Sarandon, Christopher Plummer, Gabriel Byrne, Roy Dupuis and Max von Sydow.
Set in the Quebec country, the already breathtaking landscape surrounding a simple farmhouse is given an extra dose of cinematic grandeur via the exceptional camera work of cinematographer Luc Montpellier. A long, sweeping pan introduces the home of Melanie and David Winters, the camera lens climbing the outer walls to gaze briefly at Sarandons wistful Melanie through the window pane, the symbolism of emotional detachment and transparency made plain.
After allowing the camera to rest briefly on the face of each iconic thespian, Barzman takes a small step backwards chronologically to begin the story of a group of holocaust survivors brought together years after being separated. When Melanie Winters discovers that the kind man who sheltered her and her friend Christopher as youths at the Drancy internment camp, Jakob (Von Sydow), is still alive, she invites him to come live with him and her cynical, retired professor husband (Christopher Plummer) on their farm. Jakob arrives with Christopher (Byrne) unexpectedly in tow and a subtle tale of love diverted by circumstance begins to unfold.
With the primary story taking place over the course of one day, the history is filled in by highly contrasted black and white flashbacks to Drancy. These scenes are carefully parsed out to gradually reveal the depth of Melanie and Christophers emotional connection. The way these characters were affected by their experiences, and how those experiences in turn affect the lives of their loved ones, are the equations that form their emotional responses.
Paolos direction can feel a bit heavy-handed, at times, when a more reserved touch would suit the scene, but the incredible cast basically put on a master class of humanistic acting, ensuring that Emotional Arithmetic equals profound impact. (Seville)