28 September 2015 | guy-bellinger
Is forgetting a blessing? Is remembering a duty?
Barbet Schroeder's last opus could not be more aptly titled than "Amnesia". His film indeed concerns not one but three different cases of chosen amnesia : one symbolized by a nightclub whose (actual) name, "Amnesia", suggests a place where you forget your problems and where you dance to a new type of music (electronic dance) that obliterates the music of the past ; the second sort of willful oblivion is the one exercised by Jo, the young German musician of the story, his mother, his grandfather and by extension, the bulk of the German people when it comes to the Nazi past of their country ; the third kind of intended forgetfulness is embodied by the heroin, Martha, who, after being traumatized by Nazi acts of violence she once witnessed has vowed to reject everything German, starting with speaking her mother tongue.
All these notions materialize in a plot taking place on the island of Ibiza in the early 1990s, shortly after Reunification, and revolving around Martha, the German woman who does not want to hear about anything German. Sixty-year-old and happy with the house she lives in and the lovely nature surrounding it, Martha lives by herself most of the time. One day though, her new neighbor Jo, a young musician from Berlin, lands on her doorstep in need of something. And despite his being received coolly on this occasion, the young man soon grows fond of her, and she of him. But the odd thing is that both communicate in English, Jo being unaware Martha is German. How will Jo react when he learns that her new friend is German like him without her telling him and realizes how ludicrous it is for the two of them to express themselves in a foreign idiom instead of their mutual native language...?
As you can see, the storyline is thin, very thin : it definitely lacks the scope necessary to do full justice to the lofty themes Barbet Schroeder, the director of such great movies as "More", "Reversal of Fortune" or "Terror's Advocate", has undertaken to deal with. Yet the result is an interesting, at times touching, albeit quite uneven little film, the first part faring better than the second one. Which is too bad since in such a case the final impression you get is negative even if, as a whole, the movie is quite acceptable. The trouble in this section, as a matter of fact, is Barbet Schroeder's inability to give flesh to his characters, since they are used almost exclusively to convey ideas. In these conditions it comes as no surprise that "Amnesia" finds its nadir then, as illustrated by the dinner sequence in which Jo's grandfather (Bruno Ganz) confesses his guilt. Meant as an emotional climax the scenes not only fail to shake the viewer but sink into grandiloquence and ridicule as well. Simply because the director has not managed to make us believe the grandfather was a human being; to us he is only the puppet of an abstract notion.
This is all the more regrettable as in the first part the writer- director has shown he could manage to delineate his characters with subtlety. Martha and Jo, unlike the grandfather, not only exist (both their qualities and defects are pinpointed) but they also react to each other (with amusement, annoyance, wonder, etc.) as any living creature does. Which is evidenced by a few scenes involving Marthe Keller (sparkling) and Max Riemelt (pleasant) oozing charm, emotion and humor. Unfortunately, ideas gradually erase life and prevent "Amnesia" from being the great film it could have been. Not a bad one either, for even if it does not satisfy you fully, it deals with an interesting subject and is performed by a wonderful actress. Sufficient reason indeed to justify buying a ticket at your favorite theater.