In the not too distant future, most of the population has been affected by a neurological disease robbing them of their memories. While a few people try to retain their minds and stay healthy, the rest of the population is trying to remember and reconnect.
Director Claire Carré co-wrote Embers with Charles Spano and they create a dystopian future where the majority of the population, what’s left of it anyways, has no memories but can function as adults. This leads to some scenes reminiscent of what it’s like to deal with someone with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. These people still care about others but they simply do not remember each other or who they are themselves. This could have led to a film where it’s difficult to care about the characters or overly schmaltzy, but that is not the case here. Carré and Spano’s attention to detail and to creating humans and not simply characters brings forth people that are highly flawed yet trying to connect with each other which lead the audience to connect with them.
As the characters do not remember who they are, the two leads are credited as Guy and Girl. In these roles are Jason Ritter and Iva Gocheva, both of whom give their characters’ memory loss and loss of self a level of dignity as they search for who they are. Ritter shines in particular as a man lost while trying to help this girl he feels close to and wakes up near every day, not knowing if they are together or not. His performance shows care and love while being lost and fighting the despair of losing one’s mind. His performance steals most of the scenes he is in. Playing opposite Ritter in most of his scenes is Iva Gocheva who plays well with him, their performances complement each other. The ensemble of the cast does also quite well, but these two stand out the most.
The production design by Chelsea Oliver and art direction by Matthew Lackit and Wojciech Zogala create a future that is both dystopian and realistic. The environment in which most of the population lives is counter-productive to them figuring themselves out, in contrast, the rich, unaffected people’s places are filled with technology yet colder than the outside world. The dichotomy of both worlds is carefully calculated and built. These set or settings bring a lot to the story and the characters.
All of this is put together to create a film that shows a potential future for Earth, one that is not perfect or even all that good, but the good of people shines through. The representation of the mystery disease feels like something that could happen if humans do not kill each other first. The film makes its viewers think and does not take them for idiots. Some of the mysteries are never explained. It’s simply a slice of life with no explanation how we got there or of what comes after.
Fantasia International Film Festival ran from July 14th until August 3rd, 2016 and will be back in the summer of 2017.