Remainder: Reconstructing memory
by Martin Kudláč
- Video artist Omer Fast has adapted Tom McCarthy’s reality-bending thriller, and the result is screening in competition at the TIFF
For his first feature-length directorial and narrative outing, Israeli video artist Omer Fast has tackled a novel by British artist and writer Tom McCarthy, Remainder [+see also:
film profile], and the result is screening in competition at the Transilvania International Film Festival. Although the novel initially came out in a batch of 750 copies via a French publisher as a kind of art project, it was later picked up for a wider release. McCarthy himself describes the story as “the hero builds a film set, but there is no film”, thus confirming that the material possesses a certain cinematic quality. In his works, Fast investigates the recurrent topics of the psychology of trauma, the relationship between memory and reconstruction, and the link between reality and non-reality – an array of themes in sync with the novel’s motifs.
The director kick-starts the narration through a dramatic, freak Donnie Darko-like accident that leads to the victim, Tom (Tom Sturridge), being offered an £8.5 million reparations settlement if he agrees never to discuss the incident. Tom accepts; however, the aftermath not only leaves its mark on his body (a lost limb and scars are a testament to what he shall never discuss), but also damages his mental wellbeing as a result of the severe trauma. He awakes from his coma in a different reality that he does not remember, and thus clings with a rigor mortis-like grasp to a series of obscure memories that he is determined to re-enact right down to the smallest detail. This curious hobby turns into an obsession, and as an eccentric millionaire, Tom makes the transition from cardboard cut-outs to meticulous reconstructions, sealing himself in a cocoon of a conscientiously fabricated alternative reality.
The filmmaker builds up the structure of Remainder in the vein of puzzle movies, although less mysterious and more clinical, as the protagonist yearns for bigger and more realistic sets, akin to the events that unfold in Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York, in an endless loop where the same event repeats over and over again. With his more detailed creations, Tom finds accidental flaws in the efficiently staged déjà-vu manifestations of reality (after all, a crack in a wall triggered this whole merry-go-round of manic repetition). Fast’s psychonautic dive into a deranged mind props up an intertwining parallel plotline of a paranoid heist thriller, in which the protagonist may or may not play a role. The filmmaker thus explores not only the themes of reality and non-reality, and trauma and memory, but also the conventions of video art and genre film in one functional and homogenous oeuvre, knitting together both approaches to synergetic effect.
Compared to Synecdoche, New York, the production design is less opulent, a decision clearly reflecting the protagonist’s retreat from outside reality, but not skimping on the complexity of the topics and motifs that Fast dissects. A monochromatic touch lends the imagery an aseptic quality, in line with the status of the protagonist’s sanitised memory and artificially (re)constructed reality – a fiction into which Tom free-falls uncontrollably.
Remainder was co-produced by the United Kingdom (Tigerlily Films) and Germany (Amusement Park Films). The film has a sales agent, The Match Factory, with Soda Pictures distributing the movie in the UK from 24 June.