Review: Amnesia

Marthe Keller and Max Riemelt in Amnesia

I keep stumbling onto movies with Sense8’s Max Riemelt. Amnesia is one of those. Amnesia is set on the glorious island of Ibiza, which is as much a character in the story as the people.

Amnesia is about remembering and forgetting, about facing the past and not facing the past. It’s about playing techno music in a club called Amnesia on the party island of Ibiza.

Martha Sagell (Marthe Keller) lives on a remote hillside in Ibiza. She’s been there since the end of World War II. She’s German, but has renounced everything German in herself. She won’t speak German, she won’t ride in a German made car, she won’t drink German wine. She won’t return to Germany even to sell a valuable property near the Black Forest.

Her beautiful home provides her with a garden, fish from the Mediterranean Sea just down the hill, and a peaceful life. It’s 1990 and the Berlin Wall has just been torn down.

Jo Gellert (Riemelt) moves into a house above hers on the hillside. He’s young, he’s German, and he wants to be a DJ playing techno music in the bars on the island.

They become very good friends. Jo has a crush on Martha, despite their age difference. Martha in her 70s is as beautiful and enticing as any woman. It’s easy to see why Jo would be attracted to her.

For a long time the film quietly explores their lives. The cello that sits unplayed in her house. The music studio in his house and the mesmerizing music he creates there. The way Martha lives happily without electricity. The right herbs to use on fresh fish.

Well into the film, Jo discovers that Martha is German. Finally the topic turns to traumas from WWII. Jo thinks it’s ancient history and Martha should move on.

Then Jo’s mother Elfriede (Corinna Kirchhoff) and grandfather Bruno (Bruno Ganz) come for a visit.

Bruno Ganz, Marthe Keller, Corinna Kirchhoff, and Max Riemelt in Amnesia

Martha prepares dinner for Jo and his family. Jo urges his grandfather to tell a story from WWII that Jo regarded as a happy bedtime story. But Martha’s probing uncovers the fetid truth behind it. It forces an end to the dinner party and a rift between Jo and his grandfather. Jo’s mother, who is a doctor and has spent her life helping Germany rebuild, confronts Martha about her choice to forget it ever happened.

This change point in the movie affects how all the characters will move forward with life. It asks all of the characters to deal with the past in ways they haven’t done before. Guilt, anger, regret, loss: it all comes up again. It never really goes away, does it? The decision is what to do with it.

This was a slow, quiet film. There was no exciting action, unless you consider Jo falling out of a rowboat into the sea and action scene. There was some music and dancing, but it wasn’t the focus of the film.

Barbet Schroeder directed Amnesia. It is currently available on Netflix and Amazon Video.

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