‘Remember This’ Review: A Stark Portrait of Resilience

This film, featuring a captivating performance from David Strathairn as the Polish resistance fighter Jan Karski, is a straightforward adaptation of the play of the same name.

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By Claire Shaffer

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Last fall, David Strathairn captivated Brooklyn theatergoers with his solo performance in “Remember This: The Lesson of Jan Karski,” depicting the Polish resistance fighter’s harrowing journey through exile during World War II. Originally produced by Theater for a New Audience as part of the Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics at Georgetown University, “Remember This” took inspiration from the documentaries in which the real-life Karski appeared — 1985’s “Shoah” and 2010’s “The Karski Report” — along with Karski’s own writings and lectures from his decades as a Georgetown professor. The result was a stark, minimalist set in which Strathairn recreated the horrors that Karski, who died in 2000 at age 86, endured using nothing more than a table, two chairs and a suit jacket.

The film version of “Remember This,” opening this Friday at the Quad Cinema, in Manhattan, adapts the stage play with little change in its presentation. Derek Goldman returns as director alongside Jeff Hutchens, and Strathairn is once again a one-man tour de force. Now with the benefit of editing, his transitions between the devastating and triumphant scenes of Karski’s life are punctuated with camera tilts upward into dramatic lighting cues, allowing for subtle cuts in what still resembles a one-take performance.

Despite this, “Remember This” is, quite literally, a filmed play, and Goldman and Hutchens don’t make any attempts to define or elevate itself outside the confines of the stage. That can start to feel claustrophobic at 90 minutes long, but perhaps the directors saw that as a necessary trade-off, as Karski’s numerous and poignant monologues performed to the camera — on the nature of evil, on Holocaust denial, on how one chooses to retell the truth — would have felt out of stylistically place in a cinematic version. As it is, they’re the element most likely to be remembered.

Remember This
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes. In theaters.

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