“A memory is precious because it can be forgotten.”
So memories get set in books, clothes, bric-a-brac, objects to sum up who a person was. And when that person is gone, the objects disperse, and their significance — why they were there — gone as well. As Ian (Johnny Berchtold) packs up his late mother’s house, he struggles to hold on to what he remembers, but his own memories slowly start to conflict.
His sister Lisa (Jennifer Hasty) won’t talk to him, instead sending her partner Meg (Victoria Gabrielle Platt) to collect mementos. In Ian’s mind, he and his sister were good friends. In his mourning, he can’t understand what came between them, if anything. He has no memory of it. If all we have are memories, then all we really have are cracked reflections of the past.
And then there’s a mystery woman, Olivia (Catherine Haena Kim), working with Lisa and Meg to handle the problem of Ian, who sometimes remembers being called Ivan. There’s no good way to dive further into the intricate plot of A Hard Problem, a meditation on grief and memory that holds surprises and unsettling implications that need to be experienced.
Though most of the film focuses on Berchtold and Kim, the entire cast is solid. As the grieving sister, Hasty’s face contains the shifting multitudes of emotion that loss brings, while Platt believably plays the supportive partner who came in late to the family drama. Berchtold really carries the story through his acting arc. Walking through the first few scenes with a numbness familiar to anyone who has suffered a loved one’s death, he’s asked to undergo more than the fabled five stages. Luckily he’s matched in crackling yet gentle interplay with Kim, playing a character who has been emotionally removed from her job, but can’t help but be changed by Ian.
Written and directed by a team billing itself as hazart, it’s a work far more solid than the shifting grounds of Ian’s memories. The puzzle pieces do fall into place exactly as they need to, and A Hard Problem will be worth revisiting for its emotional resonance and philosophical (but entertaining) ideas. I’m hoping that I can catch it with an audience someday — it’s that good, and it’s that important to be experienced with other people.