Tag Archives: Emotional Arithmetic

Indie Gems: Paolo Barzman’s Emotional Arithmetic

Paolo Barzman’s Emotional Arithmetic is a stunning independent drama that, despite a ridiculously prolific cast, ultimately slipped through the cracks into obscurity. It’s well worth hunting down to see four seasoned professionals as the top of their game in telling the story of various characters dealing with the lingering horrors of the Holocaust, both directly and indirectly. Susan Sarandon plays a Canadian woman sometime in the 80’s who survived a concentration camp at a very young age, and has invited two fellow survivors (Max Von Sydow & Gabriel Byrne) to a reunion at her house in the Quebec countryside where they will reconnect after decades of separation following a tragically abrupt parting from each other and will have the chance to meet her much older husband (Christopher Plummer) and their son (Roy Dupuis). It’s a pleasant, cathartic enough reunion but the collective scars they share from enduring such a horrific phase of their lives are apparent in each of them, in different ways. Byrne’s quiet, introspective character has buried his trauma under a cloak of calm, Von Sydow deliberately tried to forget using electroshock therapy, while Sarandon herself has obsessively documented, scrapbooked and reflected on their past very openly over the years to employ her own process. Plummer’s character is the outsider, having never gone through what they did and starts the film off in a sort of cavalier, borderline insensitive way until the grave reality of what his wife and her friends have suffered through hits home and he becomes more compassionate. All of the performances are absolutely magnificent and I really wish more people were able to see this moving film because each of these actors provide showcase work and should be very proud. If you are lucky enough to find a DVD, please ignore the misleading, stupid Hallmark style artwork and silly alternate title (Autumn Hearts, are you kidding me? Lol) because it’s as if the distribution company didn’t even watch the film and just did whatever the hell they wanted. This is not a sappy, syrupy film at all, it’s a deep, thoughtful, challenging interpersonal drama that stirs the soul in a realistic fashion without cheap manipulation. Highly recommended, wonderful hidden gem of a film.

-Nate Hill

In memorial: Nate’s Top Ten Max Von Sydow Performances

Roger Ebert once referred to Max Von Sydow as a “mighty oak of Swedish cinema” and the same can be said of his career as a whole both in his home country and Hollywood too. Max was an actor of tremendous presence, a noble spirit with the kind of line delivery that was immersive and drew you right into the scene. He has passed away this week at age 90 and will be missed by countless people who loved his work, but he leaves behind a multi decade legacy of brilliant and diverse acting work, and these are my top ten personal favourite of his performances:

10. Blofeld in Irvin Kershner’s Never Say Never Again

Might be controversial to say but Max was the coolest Blofeld in my book. Donald Pleasance and Telly Savalas had a businesslike, robotic vibe to their interpretations but Max gave this mega villain a decidedly sardonic, playful edge. Plus that hair makes him stand out from the classic bald image we’re used to. He isn’t in the film much but his scenes are super fun.

9. Leland Gaunt in Stephen King’s Needful Things

Malevolent, ancient and evil, Gaunt is a demon in human form hellbent on reaping souls. Setting up a curious antique shop in fictional Castle Rock, he goes up against suspicious Sheriff Pangborn (Ed Harris) and seems to have an unnatural knowledge of the town. Von Sydow makes keen, charming and ultimately super creepy work of this guy, one of the most well portrayed King antagonists put to film.

8. Dr. Kynes in David Lynch’s Dune

A longtime resident of the planet Arrakis, Kynes is an intuitive fellow who senses the buried potential within Paul Atreides (Kyle Maclachlan) and admires the resolve and integrity of his father Leto (Jurgen Prochnow). He gets some interesting, atmospheric moments in the film’s trademark voiceovers and makes a magnetic presence.

7. Judge Fargo in Judge Dredd

Fargo is one of the few high ranking judges of mega city who hasn’t been swayed by corruption, and that unconverted resilience is nicely embodied by Max. I know this isn’t the most well organized film and it hasn’t aged all that amazingly but there’s a lot to love, a bunch of dope production design and one hell of a cast, our man included. When he’s banished from the city for helping Dredd, there’s no sight quite as epic as a duster clad Max sauntering out into the desert like some intergalactic gunslinger. Good times.

6. Dr. Paul Novotny in Joseph Ruben’s Dreamscape

This underrated 80’s SciFi fantasy palooza sees clairvoyant Dennis Quaid get recruited by Max’s government researcher to infiltrate people’s dreams and uncover a conspiracy. He’s a good, kind and decent man here who has no idea how far up the chain this pseudoscientific mutiny goes, Max imbues him with a genuine curiosity for his field, an easygoing camaraderie with Quaid and steals the show.

5. Dr. Nahring in Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island

Nahring is one of a few psychiatric professionals who heads up the austere institute that Leonardo DiCaprio’s federal marshal is snooping around in. If you know the twist and remember the dialogue, you get just how ingenious Max’s line delivery is here when he asks Teddy “if you see a monster, you should stop it, no?” It’s a great callback to the end of the film. At one point Teddy berates Nahring for being German because of his experiences during the war and one gets the sense from Max’s performance that he wasn’t on the side of conflict that Teddy assumes, it’s a terrific supporting performance that doesn’t intrude yet speaks volumes.

4. Lamar Burgess in Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report

The slick CEO of a futuristic murder investigation unit, Burgess has everything under control and then some.. until his plan unravels. This is a fantastic performance that follows the Hollywood beats of a hidden antagonist but allows Max to have one final beat to the character that he nails perfectly.

3. Lancaster Merrin in William Friedkin’s The Exorcist

This is one of the films that bridged the gap to Hollywood for him and has since become infamous. Merrin is a world weary, knowledgeable yet reluctant crusader who joins forces with Jason Miller’s Father Karras in doing battle with an ancient entity he encountered in Africa before. For all its razzle dazzle and pop culture iconography, this film has two very centred, humbled and down to earth performances from these two actors.

2. Jakob Bronski in Emotional Arithmetic

This soulful indie drama sees a group of people from various backgrounds gather on Quebec farmland to heal old wounds, resolve traumas from the past and roust the kind of bittersweet situational kerfuffles that only quaint independent stuff like this can brew up. Max’s Jakob is a Holocaust survivor with deep scars that aren’t immediately apparent and has a complicated relationship with Susan Sarandon and Gabriel Byrne’s respective characters. This is a tough film to track down but worth the haul as it showcases an excellent cast in earnest performances.

1. The Tracker in Vincent Ward’s What Dreams May Come

The afterlife holds many mysteries for Robin Williams in this stunning, overlooked classic, some of which are navigated by Max’s tracker, a mysterious being who helps him find his deceased wife in the underworld. There’s more than meets the eye to this character, bestowed with an arc that Von Sydow gives sly, heartfelt talent, his inherently angelic nature just adding to the overall tone.

-Nate Hill