Born in El Cairo but raised in Canada, Atom Egoyan is one of the most prolific filmmakers of the past 15 years. In this edition of the Festival, he came to Mar del Plata to present his latest film, Remember, starring Christopher Plummer, in the International Competition. The film is a study on senility and a man’s obsession to haunt the person that killed his family, and the obsession of his best friend, in an Auschwitz concentration camp in World War II.
The film was written by Benjamín August, and what the director asks himself when he has to direct a scrip he did not write is if he will "still be interested in the story in the following months. Sometimes, you have an immediate reaction with the script and you think you love it, but other times, a few weeks later, you don’t like the script anymore, it bores you. So the question is: is this script good enough to continue being discovered throughout the different stages of the film: casting, shooting, final cut, festival circuit? The script must always remain fresh”.
What did you find fresh about Remember?
The idea that Christopher Plummer could play this character. Putting the camera as close to his face as possible in order to be able to watch even the tiniest details.
How do you work on the rhythm of a film in order to keep the audience interested?
One way is to create tension between consonance and dissonance of visual and sound design. In this case, the sound adds a lot of tension because for this film we created very unusual sound settings and, from a visual point of view, the dialogue between still camera and hand-held camera.
The film shows a subliminal criticism of violence in United States. In order for this criticism not to become prominent or too stressed, Egoyan develops an increasingly violent idea throughout the entire story: "it has to do with the tension about the unexpected. The audience starts wondering whether this man carrying a gun will be caught. It is also interesting to see if the protagonist will be able to carry out his plan. We fear he may not”.
Egoyan is a director in full artistic bloom: Rememberis his third consecutive film, after Devil´s Knot and The Captive. "These past three years have been insane”, he confesses. Apart from making one film per year, I made four operas, artistic installations and I also teach. It’s too much. It’s not the best way of working. I used to make a film very two or three years and I think is a much better rhythm”.
And a project starts when the previous one finishes or do they coexist?
It depends. The past three years have been very complicated because due to an opera or a theatre play I had to interrupt production or editing. Far from being an ideal situation. In the case of Remember, the characters are quite old, so we had to shoot quickly, urgently. In Devil´s Knot, Reese Witherspoon got pregnant and we had to move the schedule. We couldn’t do things as planned. In my first films, I worked with actors who were difficult to coordinate but, for example, with opera singers is more complicated since they have regular timetables planned years in advance, whereas actors’ schedules change constantly.
Memory is a recurrent theme in your filmography. Why do you use this subject as narrative mechanism?
The strategy I use when writing scripts has to do with making a parallel between present and past, like a constant movement, a swinging so that the character swims between two temporal moments. In the case of Remember is different because is lineal and also because the character, due to his senility, has no subtext, something that doesn’t happen in other films. What I try to find is a language that reflects the character’s experiences.
Atom Egoyan started making films at a very young age, with barely 20 years, and he has already directed 20 feature films: "I was lucky to experience the revolution of the passage from analogic to digital. That’s why I explored characters who could generate images of themselves, their own life and experiences. It allowed me to create a specific path as filmmaker. Most of my characters’ experiences are mediated by something. In the case of Remember, Christopher Plummer’s experience is mediated by Max’s letter, played by Martin Landau”.
To round it off, the director says he had the privilege of having great actors in all of his films, even the first ones: "This is very important, since these concepts are very difficult to portray. It’s very positive to have had such amazing actors”.