Michael Franco’s Memory stunned audiences at last year’s Venice Film Festival, with Peter Sarsgaard winning the Volpi Cup for Best Actor. The performances and the film have lost none of their impact since then, the film’s raw emotional energy burning bright in one’s memory.
Sylvia (Jessica Chastain) is a social worker who leads a simple and structured life: her daughter, her job, her AA meetings. This is blown open when Saul (Peter Sarsgaard) follows her home from their high school reunion. Their surprise encounter will profoundly impact both of them as they open the door to the past.
Franco’s screenplay deftly examines the fallibility of memory. Told through two broken souls who could potentially help each other to heal. One can’t hold on to their memories, whilst the other cannot forget or let go. It also calls into question the reliability of memory, where one person’s truth is another’s fiction.
The film’s direction put the actors and their performances front and centre.
Sarsgaard brings a pathos to the role of Saul. Due to the nature of his dementia, he is unable to truly comprehend or understand what is happening to him all the time. Yet Sarsgaard is able to bring a lightness of touch, a determination to remain upbeat and positive in the face of such potential sadness.
As good as he is however, this is an acting masterclass from Jessica Chastain. She delivers a simply flawless performance.
She begins the film as a repressed, insular figure. A coil wound so tight she could snap at any moment. Chastain does not need lengthy, blown out scenes of exposition. Her character and her tragic story are all there in the micro moments and movements. The multiple locks and alarms on her apartment door, flinching at the presence of men in her personal space, and how protective she is of her daughter.
Something truly horrendous clearly took place. Something she had initially tried to bury with alcohol, before turning to AA. Now working in a job helping the vulnerable. Righting the terrible wrong of when no one helped her. Seeing her interactions with her family, her behaviour makes complete sense. She is the way she is, not only due to what happened to her, but exacerbated by the reactions and vilification of her. Particularly by her mother.
What begins in a place of darkness, even hinting at becoming a revenge thriller, slowly allows light to permeate through. The burgeoning relationship between Sylvia and Saul is a beacon of hope for both of them. Despite both of their families’ best efforts, the connection could prove impossible to break.
Thanks to Chastain’s spellbinding performance, Memory is a film that will linger long in the memories of audiences.
MEMORY is in UK and Irish cinemas from 23rd February memoryfilm.uk
Director: Michel Franco
Stars: Jessica Chastain, Peter Saarsgard, Brooke Timber, Merritt Wever, Elsie Fisher, Jessica Harper
Runtime: 99 minutes