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Emotional Arithmetic

Also known as: Autumn Hearts: A New Beginning
In English (2007)

Jakob: "I should not have said 'remember'. I should have said 'live'."

Emotional Arithmetic is about the reunion, in Quebec and over forty years later, of three Holocaust survivors of a French transit camp called Drancy. Melanie (Susan Sarandon) and Christopher (Gabriel Byrne) were imprisoned as children and cared for by a young man named Jakob (Max von Sydow) who even traded his life for theirs but somehow didn't die after all.

Holocaust stories are important, but in order to work for the audience, I think they also need to be uplifting. This movie was not uplifting. What was the point of the reunion of these "second-rate survivors", really? All three of them were (understandably) emotionally unstable and profoundly unhappy. They relived their experience together, and nothing really changed; the love between Melanie and Christopher remained unfulfilled. The present-day autumn scenery was beautiful, but the black and white flashbacks of Drancy had delusions of Schindler's List and never worked for me. It was like they were too self-conscious of the gravity of the story and didn't quite find the right way to tell it.

The cast was outstanding, and they all did their jobs. Susan Sarandon in particular gave a strong, vibrant performance; this was her movie. Christopher Plummer was also good as Melanie's husband the history professor, who was permanently peeved that his wife had a more profound life experience than he did. Roy Dupuis as Benjamin, their son, was adjacent to the story, like an observer or even like us, the audience. He had a couple of nice scenes, but mostly he cooked and moved furniture – not his most challenging role. And it was jarring that he played Susan Sarandon's son. She just didn't seem old enough to be his mother. They should have mentioned something offhand up front about her having him at sixteen or something; it would have helped. Or maybe not.

And the original title, Emotional Arithmetic, was a lot more interesting and memorable. Autumn Hearts: A New Beginning is a totally forgettable title. I guess that's appropriate because, unfortunately, it's a forgettable movie. I know I'm going to forget it.

Two stars,

Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.


  1. Heya,

    I am watching LFN (and reading your reviews after every episode, and was looking for more fab Roy material.
    Looking through the lists of movies etc... is it me or did you not like any of the english movies? :P

    thanks for all the work, I love yours (and Serena's) reviews on every ep!!

  2. Hi, Aly:

    I hadn't noticed that before, but actually it does seem that I hated the English language stuff and loved the French stuff, doesn't it? Except for The Last Chapter. Which was filmed in both English and French. :) But hey, I watched and reviewed the English version!

    I haven't reviewed any of his more recent stuff, mostly because I haven't seen them.

    Thanks so much for your comment. I'm glad you're enjoying the LFN reviews. I really enjoyed writing them.

  3. I watched LFN the first time around on TV, but there is nothing like rewatching them close together. Am mids 4th season now and already dreading the end, hence I was looking for more Roy stuff ;)

    Too bad about the English language ones, because in French I really wouldn't be able to follow. Unless there would be subtitles. Are there any?

    Will try to find a copy of the last chapter tho! :) Thanks for pointing that out to me.

    One can tell you liked reviewing LFN :D Too bad I never have so much to say, or I would be filling up your comments there more too. But usually you and Serena together have basicly said it all.

  4. Aly -- At the top of every review of Roy's movies, I've put what language it is in and if there are English subtitles. I hope that helps.

  5. Yeah it does. I just hadn't clicked the French links cos I assumed not. Sorry!

    So, not feeling up for any of his recent work? Or too busy with other reviews now your site exploaded with shows? ;)

  6. So, not feeling up for any of his recent work? Or too busy with other reviews now your site exploaded with shows? ;) Sort of both. I think I lost interest a bit, too. If he were doing sci-fi movies, I'd probably still be reviewing them. :) And I'm only half kidding.


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