Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 01, 2016 6:35 pm 
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An adaptation of Tom McCarthy's cult debut novel by a prolific Israeli video artist; his first feature

As Rudge says in Alan Bennett's The History Boys, "History is just one fuckin' thing after another," and life as seen in Tom McCarthy's 2006 novel Remainder, handsomely condensed in Israeli video artist Omer Faast's feature, is but a concatenation of events, which the protagonist, Tom (Tom Sturridge), is at pains to reconstruct. He has been smashed down on a London street by falling debris, and, after a period in hospital, struggling back to life, finds himself robbed of much of his memory. This includes his early life, and what he was doing on that street.

As Catherine Bray wrote in Variety at the film's October 2015 London debut, Remainder is above all "a beguilement of memory like its predecessors Memento and Mulholland Drive." But it's also a detective story, a "sporadically playful psychological thriller," and an obsessive thriller. Because it's so condensed, McCarhy's story is (as Bray says) "harder to follow for the uninitiated" than the book. With his alabaster skin and bee-sting lips, Sturridge has a face the camera loves. Tom's recovery time is illustrated with many shaky extreme closeups. Fast lets one enjoy simply contemplating the actor's languid impersonation of the lead and the video artist's slick recreation of Tom's explorations of memory and events, a few of which are constantly revisited. In the increasingly obsessive varied versions, scenes from Tom's present and past, a sense of urgency and dirty business arises.

We can't reveal all but there's this. When Tom comes to, heavily bearded, he can't remember anything after the thing falling on him, and not much before. Of the traumatic event anyway he is not supposed to speak, a condition of the £8.5 million settlement a lawyer has arranged for him. He's been in a coma for months, and has to relearn how to move, and take constant pills for pain and to sleep. But a crack seen at a party reawakens memories of his youth, and he starts reconstructing events, using his new wealth and a hired fixer, a tidy, bearded, bespectacled man called Naz (Arsher Ali), sort of like a film director, to do it. He stages a house, several houses, keeps hired actors on call, a woman frying liver, cats on a roof, a whole string of people and things. And all along, people Tom finds who may have a sinister significance. Perhaps the ending, involving protracted reenactments of a robbery, is too much like a thriller. But it is thrilling. Perhaps in this form, we may have too much trouble connecting the dots. We're obviously not meant to always separate real from dreamed, even know if any of this is happening; it's still fun. I haven't read the novel -- yet. But this is material for re-watching and discussion.

Remainder, 97 mins., debuted Oct. 2015 at London, where it was filmed; also at Berlin Feb. 2016. Screened for this review as part of New Directors/New Films (FSLC/MoMA), Mar. 2016.

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