Review: ‘Amnesia’

Amnesia (2017) poster

Amnesia |  Barbet Schroeder | July 21st, 2017

There are some incredibly painful moments in life that we all wish we could forget. Certain past choices or inaction may instill a deep sense of grief and regret inside ourselves. This is the core theme of Barbet Schroeder’s new drama, Amnesia. Marthe Keller stars as Martha Sagell, an older woman who has spent decades living out her life in solitude on the island of Ibiza. The film takes place in the 1990s when the electronic music scene in Ibiza was starting to take off. A young German man named Jo (Sense8‘s Max Riemelt) has come to Ibiza to follow his passion for making music. He decides to stay in a small house right down the road from Marthe. The two of them eventually cross paths and are drawn to each other’s free spirits.

Max Riemelt and Marthe Keller in 'Amnesia'

Jo is fascinated that Marthe has lived alone in her house without even the simplest commodities like electricity. Marthe is invigorated by Jo’s sense of wonder and she soon learns more about the outside world she’s tried so hard to ignore. Together, the two of them spark up a friendship that is about as pure as anything you’ll see on film this year. Underneath the bonding moments like Jo teaching Marthe how to make beats, there is a sense of uneasy history with Marthe. The two main characters are of German descent, and Amnesia gives the viewer an inside look at the toll of WWII guilt that many Germans must’ve felt.

Jo eventually gets Marthe to open up about why she left Germany, and the story takes a turn towards being a pretty interesting character study. Amnesia puts you directly into the minds of German elders who were there to witness the rise of Nazis. This sense of guilt is focused on even more sharply when Jo’s mother and grandfather come to visit. A tense dinner between the three of them and Marthe is the highlight of the movie. It felt like a Richard Linklater dialogue scene, but with much darker subject matter.

Marthe Keller hosting a dinner party in 'Amnesia'

Amnesia is a small film about big issues that surrounded the surviving Germans after the war, but it also has a message of forgiveness and hope. Marthe feels immense survivors guilt and disgust at even being German. Jo and his family slowly pull her back to reality and show her that life isn’t black and white. The film is not really about the music of Ibiza at all. It plays a part in bringing Marthe out of her shell, but the real story here is the battle for Marthe. She is conflicted about ever going back to Germany.

Overall, this film was a pleasant surprise. Max Riemelt and Martha Sagell give mostly quiet yet strong performances. The story is a personal one for both characters. Ibiza and the music dance club “Amnesia” are really just the backdrop for these characters to come to terms with their own heritage. They find out what it means to be German at the turn of the century. I could have watched them talk for hours. While it wasn’t an entirely gripping drama, I was drawn in by the mystery and the great setting and cinematography.

Rating: 6.8/10