Emotional Arithmetic

Poster for Emotional Arithmetic

Winter 2008 Edge series

Sunday, February 24, 2008 at 7:00pm
Monday, February 25, 2008 at 7:00pm

Acadia Cinema's Al Whittle Theatre
450 Main Street, Wolfville, NS

Directed by Paolo Barzman

Starring Gabriel Byrne, Roy Dupuis, Dakota Goyo, Regan Jewitt, Alexandre Nachi, Christopher Plummer, Susan Sarandon, and Max von Sydow

Rated 14A · 1h 39m

In our troubled times of polarized politics and debilitating war, this extraordinary film from an emerging Canadian filmmaker asks how we will heal the emotional wounds that linger after great upheaval. A magical cast in an idyllic locale reflects on an earlier time when the world was in even greater peril. Three people were brutally separated then; now they must find the strength to face tragedy and reclaim the friendships that transformed their lives.

Melanie Winters (Susan Sarandon, Thelma & Louise) is a survivor of Drancy, a transit camp set up outside Paris during the Nazi occupation. Now comfortably middle-aged, she is married to David (Christopher Plummer, Inside Man) and dotes over her son, Benjamin (Roy Dupuis, The Barbarian Invasions), and grandson, Timmy (Dakota Goyo). Her life’s work has been to bear witness to what she experienced.

Melanie’s life in Quebec’s picturesque Eastern Townships is turned upside down when she discovers that Jakob (Max von Sydow, The Seventh Seal), a Polish dissident who saved her life in the camp, is still alive. She excitedly arranges for him to visit, but he brings an unwelcome surprise. As a boy, Christopher (Gabriel Byrne, The Usual Suspects) was at the camp with Melanie; they both felt the first stirrings of love amid the horrors of Drancy. Christopher’s arrival shatters Melanie’s insulated existence, allowing complex desires to resurface.

These memories make for the mathematics of the film’s title. Melanie is faced with the limitations of facts and figures to describe atrocity with any adequacy. The men question her obsessive chronicling and attempt to draw Melanie out of her fixation on the past.

Emotional Arithmetic is a film about personal transformation and, as such, places extraordinary demands on its actors. What a pleasure, then, to see vivacious Sarandon, growling Plummer and gently modulated Byrne play off one another, recreating a love triangle none of them ever wanted. But, even with all this extraordinary talent, it is the elegant, powerful presence of von Sydow, one of cinema’s finest actors, that imbues Emotional Arithmetic with its lasting moral weight. Given Barzman’s focus on humans overwhelmed by tragedy, one cannot help but recall von Sydow’s collaborations with the late Ingmar Bergman, and the great questions that master’s work continues to ask.