Cannes Review: ‘Amnesia’ | Who Deals With the Memories of the Holocaust Better…The Disgusted Runaway or Those Who Stayed to Rebuild Germany?

Jo and Martha in Amnesia
Jo and Martha in Amnesia

The holocaust has been told in many ways by many film makers across the globe but the central theme and conversation have always remained the same; a grave crime was committed against humanity.

It’s the aftermath of the gravest crime against humanity that ‘Amnesia’ explores; perching the conscience of those who were utterly disgusted by the Hitler led crimes against the Jews and felt being a German or staying in Germany after the war was no different that being a Nazi against those who felt that, despite it all, Germany must move forward and stayed to rebuild Germany.

Directed by Barbet Schroeder, ‘Amnesia’ is set in Ibiza, just after the fall of the Berlin wall—where an ageing German- Martha (played by Marthe Keller) who moved out of Germany and had since not spoken the language met a young new neighbour-Jo (played by Max Riemelt).

Though a German too, Jo for sometime had no idea his new island friend-Martha, could speak or understand Deutsche, let alone be a German even when it was so obvious to the viewers. Jo and Martha spent a lot of time together, fishing, cooking and making music—as Jo was a young DJ who had mainly moved to the island to tap into the great night life of the popular holiday destination.

Even with the obvious hovering romance, Barbet Schroeder played it safe with Jo and Martha—and decided to focus the attention of the audience on the film’s central theme without diluting it with a romance which wouldn’t last.

Jo had learnt about the war in school back in Germany and his conversation with Martha on this subject was difficult—as Martha and Jo could not agree on what those who lived after the war should have done to register their disgust for what happened.

Amnesia-Jo and Martha
Amnesia-Jo and Martha

For Martha, it was deeply shameful and she could not even stay in Germany and had not stepped a foot there since she moved out right after the war. And for Jo, Martha’s action may work for her own conscience but in a wider perspective, it does not really make any impact, apart from just holding onto what Germany left behind.

The disparity in the notion of what needed to have been done post the war between Jo and Martha was huge but it was not enough to break down their relationship—in fact, they grew found of each other. But when Jo’s mother (played by Corinna Kirchhoff) and grandfather (played by Bruno Ganz) visited the island in an attempt to persuade him to move back to Germany, things couldn’t hold and a certain long built relationship suffered.

Jo and Martha remained friends but the role Jo’s grandfather played in the war was questioned—exposing the false tales the grandfather had gloriously told Jo and his mother for many years.

The conversation, theme and pace of the movie is such that, though rich, it would settle really well with mature audience. Also, the film has beautiful sceneries which cannot be missed.

Though you may start off by agreeing with Martha on her decision not to want anything to do with Germany again, a dialogue between Martha and Jo’s mother renders Martha’s position problematic—with Jo’s mother’s stance sounding more desirable.



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