Israeli-born video artist Omer Fast makes a startling British feature debut with Remainder, shattering illusions and blurring lines between reality and re-created fantasy in the process.
Tom Sturridge plays the lead (aptly named Tom) who, after a coma caused by falling debris, receives millions in compensation provided he never talk about the accident. It shouldn’t be too hard as he can’t remember anything about his past, but the trauma drives an obsession with uncovering his identity.
He hires the shadowy fixer Naz (Arsher Ali) to carry out his every whim, starting with the purchase of a red brick mansion which they populate with actors who recreate, on cue, the sounds and senses that haunt Tom’s mind. Like a Kubrick or Nolan (Memento and Inception are films that often come to mind, along with Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York), Tom barks orders at his players; the music must be Chopin, there must be an old lady cooking fried liver and the sounds and smells must “waft” up to his apartment.
Despite his position as a victim, Sturridge, meanwhile, never looks for our sympathy. His eyes dart, his tongue flickers and his arrogance is most unappealing. Yet somehow, we want him to figure it all out, mainly – and Fast knows this -because we need to figure it all out. This is a game between our conditioning, through conventional narratives, to seek resolutions and this artist’s refusal to play it out neatly for us.
The film ratchets up to a brilliant finale when Tom realises he might have been involved in some kind of crime and decides to re-stage a bank robbery, hoping the final pieces of his mental jigsaw will fall into place. “The sky is too clear,” he snaps. “I want clouds.” He’s become a full-on David Lean.
Fast has previously created art installations about drones, Iraq veterans and even Steven Spielberg’s use of Polish extras in Schindler’s List, on their collusion in creating a Hollywoodised testimony of the Holocaust.
Studies of representation and interpretation are much harder to tackle in a movie but Fast manages the feat admirably, paring Tom McArthy’s cult novel down to his own artistic obsessions. It’s a swirling mind-bender of a film with a driving sense of paranoia and daring. It’s also one of the most original British films of the year; interesting that it comes from an Israeli living in Berlin.