16 April 2024
Memory review read freda cooper's review

Film Review – Memory (2023)

Memory review read freda cooper's review

We rely on it all the time, but memory is remarkably fragile, unreliable and changeable. Yet, as Michel Franco’s film of the same name shows, it’s the less-than-solid foundation for our lives and identities. And, in Memory, he layers it with a clutch of deep-rooted personal issues – abuse, violence and addiction – while creating an intimately powerful portrait of a condition that, with a tragic irony, has become as ever-present as memory itself. Dementia.

Recovering alcoholic Sylvia (Jessica Chastain) has been sober for 13 years, lives with her daughter in a down-at-heel part of New York and works at a day care centre for people with multiple disabilities. Her well-ordered life includes AA meetings and, when she breaks out of her routine to attend a school reunion, she catches the eye of a silent, smiling man, who follows her all the way home, much to her alarm. It transpires that Saul (Peter Sarsgaard) has early onset dementia and his protective brother Isaac (Josh Charles) is his full-time carer. Realising that Saul has taken a liking to Sylvia, Isaac employs her to look after his brother and the two become closer, raising the possibility of Sylvia finding some genuine happiness for herself.

Both are damaged: Saul, by his inability to recall anything recent, and Sylvia by devastating abuse and her family’s reaction to it. Her memory doesn’t always serve her well either, as she is initially convinced that Saul was one of the boys who preyed on her at high school. He doesn’t remember it – nor should he. Because he wasn’t. Our eventual understanding of the couple – or as much as Franco allows us – only evolves after moments of prickling tension. Sylvia’s near-panic as Saul follows her home is almost tangible. After going to the bathroom while staying over at her apartment, Saul finds he cannot remember which of the two bedroom doors is hers. The other belongs to her daughter. And when Sylvia comes face to face with her mother (a superbly cold and manipulative Jessica Harper) after years of estrangement, her pain and fear are laid agonizingly bare.

All of which means that the choice of cast in what is essentially a small, intimate film set mainly in two interiors is crucial. Franco has chosen with the clear eye that characterizes his other films, especially 2015’s Chronic, with its remarkable solo turn from Tim Roth. After the outlandish make-up of The Eyes Of Tammy Faye, here we have a stripped down Chastain, bare faced and in dingy clothes that disguise a scratchy, defensive barrier she’s created to protect herself. Sarsgaard won Best Actor at Venice last year for his performance, one that shows Saul as somebody who understands his condition and its potential problems, but has the simplicity and enthusiasm of a teddy bear in his relationship with Sylvia.

 It’s not an easy watch but at no point does Franco even come close to adding a touch of sugar. Instead he stays focused on his characters, the effects of their recent and distant pasts on their current lives and leaves the future open to our imagination. He, and his two leads in particular, have created a portrait of a devastating condition which impresses with its maturity and subtlety.

★★★★

In UK cinemas February 23rd / Jessica Chastain, Peter Sarsgaard, Merritt Wever, Brooke Timber, Josh Charles, Jessica Harper / Dir: Michel Franco / Bohemia Media / 15


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