AMNESIA Takes a Deep Trip Into Memory and Connection

Schroeder’s gorgeously-shot drama shows what happens when the past returns.

Amnesia, the latest film from chameleon-like director Barbet Schroeder, takes place from beginning to end on the legendary island of Ibiza. This of course results in countless shots featuring gorgeous scenery and location backdrops soaked in sunshine against the calming sounds of the endless ocean. All of this is to be expected as the director makes Ibiza come off as so utterly tranquil and blissfully serene. There are moments when Schroeder can be accused of pimping out the land a little too much, but when the land looks like this, that’s hardly a negative. The setting’s strongest feature however is how it manages to function as the perfect landscape to explore this quiet, yet powerful story of members from two distinct generations including one who is forming his own ideals and another being held captive by her own.

Amnesia focuses on Marthe (Marthe Keller), a German woman living in an electricity-free cottage by the water on the island of Ibiza. Once a cellist, Marthe now lives a small, yet valuable life. When she encounters her new neighbor Jo (Max Riemelt), an aspiring DJ from Germany who has come to play at Amnesia, the island’s most popular club, an unlikely friendship is formed. As the two get closer, Jo is shocked when he discovers that Marthe has been keeping her nationality a secret from everyone for many years. Despite her hesitancy, Jo proceeds to uncover why that is as Marthe is forced to face the past she ran from.

The beauty of a film like Amnesia being such a self-contained experience, is that there are moments and touches galore which seem isolated, yet manage to say so much through sheer subtlety. It’s interesting to watch Marthe resist everything German, from the language to even wine. Likewise, the brief instance where the audiences watch as Marthe and Jo skirt around what their relationship is about is both genuine and upfront as well as a bit of a dodge on their part. If the scene featuring Jo teaching Marthe his craft feels a bit filler, it’s only because the characters are at their best when they’re talking and emotionally exploring one another. Yet even a seemingly throwaway scene proves vital as is shows how music works as an escape from one reality into another and how it has provided such a use for both characters in their own ways. It’s here where Amnesia once again shows itself to be a film about emotions existing under the surface, which are struggling to come out.

It’s interesting, if a bit ironic, that the film’s title is Amnesia, given that so much of its central theme deals with memory and the past. Marthe is a woman who has spent years running from her past, believing she has escaped it by having made a little haven for herself. Despite this, there’s no denying the fact that she is still dominated by her former existence. Marthe’s shunning of the past stems purely from the guilt and shame attached to what it means to have come from Germany in a post-WWII world. The film intelligently shows how the effects of Nazi Germany also touched those who weren’t outright victims themselves, beautifully illustrated in Marthe’s recollection of an encounter with some children who were recently released from a concentration camp. Amnesia is also a film about identity; the hiding of it, the transforming of it, the acceptance of it and ultimately, the undefinable nature of it. The film deals heavily in the act of facing that which you thought could escape, run and hide from and never be found.

Keller remains as luminous and deep an actress in 2017 as she was back in the 1970s with her reading of this woman who has shielded herself for so long. Her ability to effortlessly give life to her character and the words of the screenplay are what makes Amnesia both so delicate and magnetic. In Jo, Riemelt may have less to do than his seasoned co-star and there are times when he’s caught merely just watching Keller act. However the actor manages to bring his scharacter’s coming-of-age journey through in ways which make him a more than worthy partner for Keller.

It takes some time for Amnesia to shake off a sort of fragmented nature it carries with it in the first act. A little more time seeing Marthe and Jo getting to know each other would have easily remedied this as it feels like the film’s characters have connected just a little too fast. However it’s hard not to love the kinship and the bond that develops between the two, which never feels anything but honest. As a result, Amnesia continues in the vein of Schroeder’s other character pieces (such as the exquisite Barfly) which exist purely on the exploration of complex individuals who don’t seem complex at first simply because they’re so incredibly human. The film may not be the director’s strongest effort, yet it’s nonetheless a worthwhile offering brimming with a richness of character and deeply soul-searing themes.

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