Emotional Arithmetic Paolo Barzman

Emotional Arithmetic Paolo Barzman
It’s a terrible thing to say but surviving the Holocaust creates a scenario ready-made for stolid Canadian filmmakers. All that guilt and suffering is the perfect springboard for our de rigueur scenes of pinched anguish and pained exchanges, all of which surface in this hilariously facile domestic drama.

Based on Matt Cohen’s novel, the film concerns a reunion of several survivors: the host is Melanie (Susan Sarandon), who formed a bond in the Drancy way station with aged, now-stunted poet Jakob Bronski (Max von Sydow) and her childhood friend Christopher Lewis (Gabriel Byrne). Along with her intolerant husband David (Christopher Plummer), the three remember the horror and compare their scars while Christopher tries to rekindle his thwarted love for Melanie.

In the hands of a deft writer, this might have been brimming with nuance but the best director Paolo Barzman can come up with is that you should put the past behind you, or remember without remembering, or something. What the film wants you to think is at once vague and simplistic, and isn’t backed up with anything approaching convincing human behaviour.

Sarandon and Byrne stammer and tug at their forelocks like blushing schoolchildren; Plummer’s four-star asshole is clearly contrived for the only conflict the film has, while Sydow is basically wheeled in for his association with Bergman, the king of unresolved guilt. Only that auteur would have made his shame-based characters credible and compulsively watchable — the best Barzman can muster is a film that more alludes to emotions than actually evokes them.

Too timid to draw blood and too simpleminded to make connections, the film is well-meaning, earnest and a complete waste of time. (Seville)