Melanie Winters (Susan Sarandon) is leading a quiet life in a rustic lakeside farmhouse nestled amid the burnished hills of Eastern Quebec. But judging by the worried looks of her husband David (Christopher Plummer), a gruff retired history professor, and her handsome son (Roy Dupuis), something is amiss with Melanie as she nervously prepares for a reunion with one Jakob Bronski (the peerless Max von Sydow). The long-awaited Bronski was a heroic figure from her traumatic childhood spent in Drancy, the French transit camp outside Paris, which the Nazis used as a way station to Auschwitz. David thinks his emotionally fragile wife should let the past stay buried. “A storm is coming,” he warns. “Not that anyone listens to me.”
In Paolo Barzman’s achingly beautiful drama of love and memory (adapted from the novel by Matt Cohen), the storm comes gently at first, and then relentlessly, as Bronski’s arrival with a surprise guest (played by Gabriel Byrne) triggers a whirlwind of complex emotions for Melanie and her family. Over the course of a momentous weekend, all are forced to reassess the choices and compromises each has made to cope with their ruptured lives and the mysterious scars the past has left behind.
Barzman, who studied painting and worked with legendary French director Jean Renoir before turning to directing himself, creates arresting imagery from both the lushly saturated Quebec countryside and the restrained flashbacks to Drancy, deftly rendered by cinematographer Luc Montpellier in abstract black & white tableaux. But Barzman’s magical feat in Emotional Arithmetic is to pull together his high-powered cast into a tight ensemble of original, sharply defined characters, anchored by Sarandon but matched in poignancy and power by Plummer, Byrne and the remarkable von Sydow. In this equation, the whole is even greater than the sum of its parts.
From 2008 Festival: Director, Canada
Paolo Barzman is a seasoned screenwriter and television director. After growing up steeped in the world of the cinema – his parents were the noted screenwriters Ben and Norma Barzman – he pursued an education in painting and graphic arts at the Académie Julian in Paris and at UCLA before turning to film. He started his career as an assistant to the great French director Jean Renoir.
Barzman lives and works in Montreal and brings a unique combination of French and North American sensibilities to the set. He is recognized as an exceptional communicator who welcomes improvisation and is sensitive to actors’ chemistry.
He wrote and directed his first feature film (Time is Money, with Max von Sydow, Charlotte Rampling and Martin Landau) in 1992. He has directed numerous television movies and series episodes, including 16 episodes of the acclaimed 15/Love, all 22 episodes of the forthcoming Ice Corp and 11 episodes of the adventure series Relic Hunter. In 2006, he received a Gemini award for his work on 15/Love. Emotional Arithmetic is his second theatrical feature.
Time is Money (Feature Film)
Léa Parker (TV series)
15/Love (TV series)
All Around the Town (TV movie)
Largo Winch (TV series)
You Belong to Me (TV movie)
Queen of Swords (TV series)
Un enfant, un secret (TV movie)
Montagnes bleues, Les (TV movie)
Dossier: disparus (TV series)
Ciel d'orage (TV movie)
Aventures Caraïbes (TV mini-series)
Coeurs caraïbes (TV mini-series)
Lonesome Dove: The Series (TV series)