“We are witnessing the disintegration of the world!”
The motto of Québec is “Je me souviens” (“I remember”). It’s on their license plates, so that idea is always present for Québecois. That is not stated in Éric Tessier’s film You Will Remember Me, but it is certainly a central aspect of the story. While it is built around the dementia of the central character, it is much more about the wider world and our own inability to remember, even in the short term.
Édouard (the wonderful Rémy Girard) is a famous historian who is quickly becoming more and more affected by dementia. He has become too much for his wife to deal with. When she dumps him off with his daughter, who has to leave on an assignment, he is cared for by her boyfriend. But when he has to go to a meeting, he calls on his own daughter, Bérénice (Karelle Tremblay). Bérénice is young and drifting. However, she and Édouard form a strange bond even though he really can’t remember who she is. Eventually, he mentally connects Bérénice with another daughter, Nathalie, who is no longer around. Although they are so different, Édouard and Bérénice are able to provide what each needs in their lives.
The fact that Édouard was a historian is obviously important. He has spent his life with memories. He views the past as important. But now that past is slipping away from him. He doesn’t form new memories, so he only has the past. Early in their relationship, Bérénice talks about history being unimportant. (“That craps over. There’s more to life than that.”) But later, Édouard shares with her an important event in Québec history (that coincides with Nathalie’s conception). It is a vibrant memory that he brings to life for her. (And it is a reminder of “Je me souviens”.)
While the struggles of a person with dementia are serious, this film blends in just the right amount of humor to make the story enjoyable. But it is not just a story of a person’s fading memories and of a young woman finding a new way of seeing her life. It is a reflection of who we are as a society. Édouard often rants about the Facebook/Twitter/YouTube world. At first it seems like the typical complaint of an aging Luddite. But we begin to see that there is something more existential to his views.
Later in the film he delivers an amazing monologue (ironically, that he streams using Bérénice’s phone). In that speech, Édouard shows a parallel between his disease, which is eating away at his memory and who he is, and the world that is so filled with information that each new thing pushes out what came before it. Just as he can’t remember what happened five minutes ago, so too do we not form memories. We can’t decide what is real or important. Instead, he says “You are prisoners of the eternal present.” (This monologue could well be my favorite movie scene of the year.)
The film challenges us to think about not so much the onslaught of information that can overwhelm us, but how we will remember the important things in life—love, community, values, freedom. Most importantly, we need to remember who we are. Without that memory all is lost. I have a new appreciation for the depth of Québec’s motto.
You Will Remember Me is available on Virtual Cinema.
Photos courtesy of Corinth Films.