Emotional Arithmetic, an official selection of the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival, is a heartbreaking drama from director Paolo Barzman. Susan Sarandon, Christopher Plummer, Gabriel Byrne and Max von Sydow star in this film adaptation of Matt Cohen’s emotional novel.
Back in 1945 during World War II, Melanie Winters (Sarandon) was a 13-year-old living in France when her Jewish-American parents disappeared without a trace. She was then taken by French authorities and thrown into Drancy, a World War II internment camp. She then formed a quick friendship with Christopher Lewis, another 13-year-old who was being held captive there. After Christopher’s parents were killed while on assignment for a British newspaper, the youngster found himself placed in the internment camp -- despite his protests of being Christian not Jewish. Also imprisoned with these teenagers was Jakob Bronski (von Sydow), a Polish dissident who developed a strong bond with them. When Jakob learned Melanie and Christopher were on a list of people to be sent to Auschwitz, he made a deal with his captors to board the train instead of the children, hoping to save their lives.
When the war concluded, Melanie and Christopher lost touch. Melanie was sent to live in the United States, and Christopher to England. Believing that Jakob was killed at Auschwitz forty years ago, Melanie discovers that he is very much alive and residing in a Russian mental institution. She Insists that Jakob come live with her and her husband David (Plummer) on their farm in Quebec.
While elated to see Jakob, Melanie isn’t sure how she should handle Christopher’s (Gabriel Byrne) unexpected visit after Jakob brings him along in an effort to surprise her. Melanie and Christopher must now grapple with their emotions. Will they deal with -- or suppress -- the intense feelings they still have for each other?
Sarandon delivers an outstanding performance as Melanie. This demanding role calls on her to portray a woman who’s energetic and embracing life on the outside while simultaneously being in constant sorrow, unable to move forward with her life on the inside.
I also admire Christopher Plummer’s humorous and low-key turn as Melanie’s husband David. This character, annoyed about having to give up working on his beloved farm due to a heart attack, mopes around believing he must suffer silently because his physical problems are nowhere as big as his wife’s daily internal struggle. And it's obvious David can‘t help secretly resenting Jakob and Christopher.
Max von Sydow stands out as Jakob. This actor was initially cast in the role by Barzman because of his height, physical appearance, deep voice (and previous work on Barzman’s directorial debut, Time is Money). He combines those attributes -- along with charm and humor -- in a delightful performance as an elderly man who has dealt with unspeakable horrors yet still approaches each day with an abundance of hope.
Barzman first learned about Emotional Arithmetic when one of the film’s producers handed him a copy of Cohen’s novel. After feeling an instant connection with Cohen’s characters and believing the author’s novel had “profound universal appeal,” Barzman set out to direct what would become a profoundly moving film.
Two Gala Screenings for Emotional Arithmetic will be held at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival on September 15. The first screening is scheduled for at the VISA Screening Room in the Elgin Theatre, followed by one at in Roy Thomson Hall.
(Released by Seville Pictures and rated 14A in Canada. Not rated by MPAA.)