Directed by Paolo Barzman
Adaptation by Jefferson Lewis, based on the book Emotional Arithmetic, by Matt Cohen
Seville Pictures, 2007
Premiered at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival
Rotten Tomatoes score is “no consensus yet,” which means not enough reviews are in.
If you ask me if I believe in God, I am forced to answer: Does God believe in me?
The past has cast a long shadow over the present, reaching to the picturesque Quebec farm where the now married Melanie (Susan Sarandon) lives less than happily with her husband (Christopher Plummer). When in 1985 Melanie reads about the release from the Soviet gulags of fellow Holocaust survivor Jakob (Max Von Sydow), she writes and invites him to her home. Jakob unexpectedly brings Christopher (Gabriel Byrne), whose love for Melanie has never diminished since their confinement in an internment camp as youngsters. Old feelings and long suppressed memories are stirred up and revealed at a climactic, life changing meal. —Urban Cinefile
scene from the film
provided by director Paolo Barzman
More promotional images are available in the Gallery.
Straight.com (Vancouver)/Mark Leiren-Young: Gabriel Byrne is happy Canada figures into Emotional Arithmetic (this article is no longer available at the Straight.com website)
This interview with Gabriel Byrne actually took place during the Toronto International Film Festival. You can see a glimpse of it in Stories from Home when he asks Gabriel a question about Canada. The author of the article is also a writer, screenwriter, dramatist, producer and director.
Mark Leiren-Young, who has a background in pretty much everything — journalism, television, comedy, theatre and film- is without a doubt one of the most talented, multi-disciplinary voices in Canada.
A crew making a documentary was filming in the guest suite at the Hotel Intercontinental, where Gabriel Byrne was conducting one-on-one interviews about his new movie, Emotional Arithmetic, just before its world premiere at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival. And the crew had clearly chosen the right year to follow Byrne around.
Aside from starring in Emotional Arithmetic—a feature based on Matt Cohen’s beloved novel about the fallout from a reunion of three Holocaust survivors—he was only months away from turning up on the small screen as a psychoanalyst in the new HBO series, In Treatment.
Byrne was also starting a serious trophy collection. He’d just received the 2006 Outer Critics Circle award for best performance on Broadway (for his role in Eugene O’Neill’s classic A Touch of the Poet), an award from the philosophical society of Trinity College, and a lifetime-achievement award from the Dublin Film Festival.
Talking about the three prizes, the 57-year-old actor joked, “You kind of get a little bit concerned when you get a lifetime-achievement award at such a young age.” He said he’s “honoured to be recognized as a Broadway actor”. But the award he looked the most proud of when he mentioned it was the one from Trinity College, “a college that I wasn’t able to get into as a student because I was a Catholic. So to be honoured by giving me recognition from the department of philosophy, which was the subject that I had really wanted to study at that college but wasn’t allowed to do, was a kind of special thrill.”
Melanie (and also Jakob): If you ask me: Do I believe in God? forgive me if I answer: Does God believe in me?
Jakob: Yes, I brought you a present.
Christopher: Melanie. Hello, Melanie. I would have recognized you anywhere.
Melanie: What are you doing here?
Christopher: Well, I heard that Jakob Bronski, Poet of the Gulag, has been freed. I contacted him in Paris and decided to come with him on the spur of the moment. I hope I’m not unwelcome.
Melanie: I don’t know what to say.
Christopher: Your hair. It’s redder than I remember…it suits you.
Christopher (pointing to the cows in the field): Interesting looking beasts. Do you milk them?
David: Hardly. They’re boy cows.
David: So, what do you do?
Christopher: I’m an entomologist.
David: Any old insect?
David: Wasps! Well, you’ll find lots of yellow jackets around here. So, why Paris? After everything that happened, I would have thought you would want to be as far away as possible.
Christopher: That’s a good question. My work, mostly. I did go back to Drancy once. It’s a housing estate now. Laundry hanging from the windows, children playing soccer. Guess people have to live somewhere.
David: Well, you’ve put it all behind you then. Drancy. The whole experience.
Christopher: What do you mean?
David: I mean, no tragic aura. No black pit of depression. No compulsive returnings to the past. I admire that. Move on! That’s the trick.
Christopher: So they say.
David: So, how do you find her?
Christopher: She seems unchanged to me.
Christopher: Does she ever talk about Drancy?
David: No. Not to me. Not that I haven’t asked, but no. She won’t talk about it. Not really.
Christopher: Maybe she can’t.
David: And I understand that.
Christopher: It sounds like you have a really good life here.
Melanie: Oh, we do. We do. You know, we’re two old warriors on the battlefield of marriage. We wouldn’t know what to do without each other.
Christopher: So, you’re happy. Together.
[Timmy interrupts them before Melanie can reply…]
Melanie: So, how’s your sex life?
Christopher: [laughs] That’s fairly blunt.
Melanie: Well, there’s no point in beating around the bush, as they say.
Christopher: Most of my friends are wasps, so–I mean the ones that buzz.
Melanie: How did that happen? That is so weird. Come on, there have been girls. I bet you’ve dated lots of girls. Have you ever been in love?
Christopher: Yeah. Once.
Melanie: Really? Well. What happened?
Christopher: She married someone else.
[After the pick-up truck and train escapade]
Melanie: Hello, Christopher.
Christopher: Hello, Melanie.
Christopher: At camp!?
Melanie: What do YOU say? I mean, we met at Drancy. Drancy, which is a camp. Nobody knows. If it was Dachau or Auschwitz, maybe, but a little transit camp outside of Paris–nobody’s ever heard of it. We’re second-rate survivors. What do you say?
Christopher: I say I was at Drancy with Melanie.
Melanie: Hm. Well, it works when you say it.
David: Being a victim of some terrible apocalyptic event does not make you a saint. It doesn’t work that way. I know that’s the crazy equation that’s been ruling our house for God knows how long, but it’s a crazy equation nonetheless. It’s gotta stop.
Melanie: Why did you come?
Christopher: I came for Jakob. To see that he got here all right. I owed him that.
Melanie: Why did you come?
Christopher: I came to see you. To see how your life worked out.
Melanie: I wasn’t ready to see you.
Christopher: I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Melanie.
Jakob: Too many numbers
Too many details
Too many smiles
Too many eyes
Too many words.
I was wrong.
I should not have said “Remember.”
I should have said “Live.”
More posters are available in the Gallery.
168 screencaps by Stella are available in the Gallery.
Director Paolo Barzman’s sophomore feature “Emotional Arithmetic,” which closed this year’s Toronto Film Festival, is less a straight matter of addition or subtraction than it is a complex algebra equation, with multiple variables that all have a bearing on the sum…Generally solid performances and Barzman’s sensitive handling help to elevate the pic above the realm of the familiar…
Dear Cinema: Films and Film Festivals [this website is no longer available]
The charm of Paolo Barzman’s second film rests considerably in the hands of the capable actors—-Susan Sarandon, Max von Sydow, Christopher Plummer and Gabriel Byrne—-all who have a maturity to carry off their parts in the film with grace…
If you are familiar with cinema of Bergman, the film offers tantalizing parallels with Bergman’s Through a Glass Darkly. Both films have Max von Sydow. Both have a pivotal wooden dining table in the open air as an important prop for the story. In both films, you have rain that is likely to fall on the table. In both films, a woman is in a fragile mental state, with men hovering around her watching her with concern.
Montreal Gazette [this review is no longer available]
The sad, autumnal melodrama Emotional Arithmetic begins in the lush countryside of the Eastern Townships of Quebec. Leaves are turning red and gold. The lake is calm. A camera swoops across an idyllic farm, where a table has been set under a tree. We stand behind Gabriel Byrne, staring out at the water. We walk behind Max von Sydow touring a barn, shouting Germanic imprecations at the cattle. We see Susan Sarandon open a box, take out a button, and stare at herself in the mirror. The music is dolorous. We see Christopher Plummer, standing in his bedroom and staring out the window. “Storm coming,” he says to no one in particular. “Not that anyone listens.”
It’s a sequence that allows director Paolo Barzman to give us the mood — sad, autumnal and obsessed with the middle distance, not to mention the distant past — of a story that has become a recurring theme of Canadian art. Emotional Arithmetic closed the recent Toronto film festival, and like Fugitive Pieces, the film that opened it, it is based on a Canadian novel about the redemption, healing and damage of the Holocaust, an event that comes to our shores in the guise of damaged people and loneliness.
The Holocaust-shadowed drama “Emotional Arithmetic” could not be more sensitively acted, exquisitely photographed or impeccably directed.
In fact, it’s difficult to imagine a way in which Paolo Barzman’s small-town-Quebec-set evocation of an awkward reunion could be improved. A measured, poignant accounting of the costs and benefits of remembering past crimes, this delicate film is a kind of love letter to survivors.
The film’s title was changed to Autumn Hearts: A New Beginning for the DVD.
The film is powerful. The actors, superb. Susan Sarandon as Melanie, Gabriel Byrne as Chris, Max Von Sydow as Jacob and Christopher Plummer as David all put in performances of understanding and depth— we are awakened and brought to the very center of this troubled and troubling history.
Dealing with the aftermath through the eyes of a future generation raises understanding of the Holocaust to another level. This movie carries the pain of those times, and the consequences of them, into the lives of today and on into the future.
The impeccable cast help make this sombre work engaging and its Quebec setting is sufficiently different to give the subject matter a sense of freshness.
Film Intuition/Jen Johans [note from Stella: this is a great review, full of background information and insight!]
In black and white flashbacks, we realize the instinctually close bond the three shared in their hellish experience, with Jakob looking after the two kids and, once he was removed, making Christopher promise to take care of Melanie, the young girl with whom he was undoubtedly smitten. Briefly after their reunion at the airport, we realize that Christopher’s love for Melanie has increased considerably and the two awkwardly skirt around their feelings until finally confronting one another about what might have been had they managed to be together following Drancy in one of the film’s most moving scenes.
… the staging seems not only appropriate but completely necessary to best serve the highly sensitive and relationship-based material. Cinematically, Hearts owes something to the works of Ingmar Bergman and even Woody Allen’s gloomier works like Interiors and September. And while there are endless arguments as everything is bared over the course of a painful yet air-clearing and cathartic twenty-four hour period that does seem a bit melodramatic at times, the actors all make it work and a great deal is equally owed to its talented director.
What goes a long way to save this film is the excellent direction by Paolo Barzman. Most of his work has been in episodic television but this is a man who also knows his way around a feature film. He sets the drama in the most simplistic of locations; mostly around a little wooden table. The look and feel is more of a stage production than a film. This is reinforced by the fantastic who are all experienced in but stage and screen. Barzman doesn’t need to pull fancy camera work out of his bag or play tricks with fancy, ultimately distracting lighting; He places the cast in front of the camera and just captures the magic that ensues. The greatness of details like the lighting is it is so perfectly set that you don’t notice it at all. It is there illuminating the scene and engendering the mood but never overwhelming. There is a wonderful economy to his direction. It is straight from the heart and relates allows the emotions to come about as naturally as possible. In his early career Barzman studied painting. This is obvious in the fashion that each scene is set. There is a balance and even poetry to it. Every shot looks as if it was taken from an old school master hanging in a museum. You don’t often see such quite attention to detail anymore and when it shows up as it does here it is simply beautiful to behold. Adding to this is the expertise of the cinematographer, Luc Montpellier. He breathes life into the vision held by Barzman. His choice of lens, angles and shadowing is incredible. There is a texture to this film that comes from such a collaboration that is rare and breathtaking…
This is film to see because of the way it was shot and the talent of the cast; it more than makes up for the weaknesses in the script. As always Sarandon is incredible to watch. She has such a command of her character it is easy to forget you are watching an actress plying her craft. She gives such a rich performance that she will sweep you into the story. Von Sydow is also excellent. He has such a long and varied career that he is able to take on a difficult role like this with skill and grace. Byrne is the type of actor that few may place on their top ten lists but that is only because of his understated methods. He is a quiet man where the emotions run deep and fast.
Tapiei Times.com/Ian Bartholomew (this is a PDF file)
The cast alone is worth the price of admission, for each puts in a magnificent if understated performance…
…Emotional Arithmetic can be enjoyed for some fine moments of dialog and the over-all mood of civilized malaise that the characters try to keep under control, if not always effectively.
Toronto International Film Festival
The film closed the 2007 edition of the festival.
closing night gala
With the primary story taking place over the course of one day, the history is filled in by highly contrasted black and white flashbacks to Drancy. These scenes are carefully parsed out to gradually reveal the depth of Melanie and Christopher’s emotional connection. The way these characters were affected by their experiences, and how those experiences in turn affect the lives of their loved ones, are the equations that form their emotional responses.
Paolo’s direction can feel a bit heavy-handed, at times, when a more reserved touch would suit the scene, but the incredible cast basically put on a master class of humanistic acting, ensuring that Emotional Arithmetic equals profound impact.
CBC News, Canada’s national broadcaster
Emotional Arithmetic, the Toronto film festival’s closing film, explores the tragic toll war can have on its survivors— even decades later.
Susan Sarandon and Gabriel Byrne
Susan Sarandon, Gabriel Byrne, and director Paolo Barzman
Susan Sarandon and Gabriel Byrne
Angelle notes that this article (in French) explains how the film was made, estimates that the supposed modest budget of $5 Million (actually $5.8M) could not have paid for such renowned actors, and assumes that the actors gave up their salaries.
ReelTalk Movie Reviews/Geoffrey D. Roberts : Profoundly Moving
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.
behind the scenes featurette
For Christopher, the trauma of the past became idealized in the nature of his relationship with Melanie.
The past is like a ghost that exists between her and her husband and, in a way, Christopher is that ghost. The ghost in Christopher’s life has been Melanie…
Of course, what he refuses to recognize is that she has married and has had a life with another man. But she’s not able to resolve her past either.
I often think that landscape is a reflection of a story. It’s very important. It’s not just that it’s set in, but actually, it’s a reflection of what’s happening in the emotional lives of the characters…we really felt it was the autumn of people’s lives, that particular light was there…
Susan Sarandon is interviewed in English with a Spanish translation. She mentions Gabriel Byrne at minute 3:40 and discusses why she makes the films she chooses to make.
Matt Cohen, the author of Emotional Arithmetic, published in 1990, died in 1999. He is something of a legend in Canada, for having led the battle for Public Lending Right legislation.
Melanie is a mother and a lover, middle-aged, eccentric, courageous, and often hilariously unpredictable. She’s also deeply scarred by her internment as a child in Drancy, a Nazi detention camp. Through the humanity and friendship of an English boy, Christopher Lewis, and her self-appointed protector, Jakob Bronski, Melanie managed to survive. Forty years later, Jakob, now a frail, well-known Soviet dissident, and Christopher, a writer who’s never forgotten the young Melanie, reenter her life. Memories of the past, coupled with her husband’s infidelity, upset Melanie’s precarious emotional stability, forcing her to confront the absurdity of trying to balance good and evil, guilt and love, duty and desire. With its finely drawn characters, rich humanity, and rare wit, “Emotional Arithmetic” is a novel of memory and hope, offering an unforgettable look at how the shadows of the past illuminate the present.
about Drancy (from the closing credits)
Drancy was a transit camp established in 1941 on the outskirts of Paris. It served as a holding station for prisoners en route to forced labour and extermination camps. It was under French authority until the end of 1942 when it was handed over to the Nazis.
The camp was liberated in August 1944.
The exact number of people who passed through Drancy between 1941 and 1944 is unknown. It is estimated to be as many as 70,000. Most of them were deported to Auschwitz and died there. Among them 11,000 children.
Unrelated to Emotional Arithmetic, Roy Dupuis and Gabriel Byrne both played a variant of the same character in a film and a television series.
Gabriel Byrne played the handler, Bob, in the American version of Luc Besson’s La Femme Nikita (Point of No Return in the U.S.) and Roy Dupuis played the “trainer” in the Canadian TV version called La Femme Nikita, which was broadcast in the U.S. and internationally between 1997 and 2001. It has a kind of cult status now.
Other connections: In season 1 of the television series Le Femme Nikita, Canadian actress Alberta Watson played Madeline. She also played Ian McKellan’s daughter in The Keep.
Christopher by Magalie
More fan art is available in the Gallery.
Heartfelt thanks to Angelle for her incredible assistance in the creation of this page, including all of the TIFF information, most of the reviews, and other valuable resources and information!
Many thanks to Magalie for her fan art.