Evoking the reflective nature of meditative character dramas like Pieces of a Woman and Trouble in the Garden, Memory roots itself in disturbing subject matter only to uncover beautiful and organic growth between two societal outsiders.

Though she’s respected as a social worker and holds her own as a single parent, Sylvia (Jessica Chastain) tends to feel alone. Despite her begrudging feelings towards attending her high school reunion, she’s coaxed into going where she, inevitably, leaves early.  She’s followed home by Saul (Peter Sarsgaard), a disheveled man who seems at a loss for purpose.  Sylvia believes Saul was complicit in her sexual assault when she was a minor, whereas Saul blanks on details of their past due to his dementia.  As more of their past is rediscovered and misunderstandings come to a head, through their own experiences with trauma, Sylvia and Saul find more of a epiphanic connection with each other more than they ever could have predicted.

The distanced storytelling and minimalist filmmaking exhibited by writer/director Michel Franco is supposed to issue an observer’s approach to Memory. Most of it works in favour of the mutual isolation both Sylvia and Saul endure; other sequences feel too detached and work against the movie’s private vulnerability. However, the stellar primary performances given by Chastain and Sarsgaard anchor Memory and keeps the subdued narrative on track. Franco’s flick cautiously rides the line between a cathartic outlet for audiences and a masterclass for other actors interested in deep sensory work, and never loses that balance. 

Other performers including Josh Charles (as Saul’s protective brother), Elsie Fisher (as Saul’s benevolent niece), and Jessica Harper (as Sylvia’s cold and uncomfortable mother) are brought into the fold nicely and add special nuance to an increasingly complicated story.


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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie

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