As a film festival nears its conclusion, the expectation for groundbreaking discoveries or major premieres typically diminishes. The press dwindles, and remaining attendees adopt a more nonchalant attitude towards screenings. This was the backdrop at this year’s Venice Film Festival, further impacted by the SAG-WGA strike, making star appearances scarce. However, a notable exception emerged in the form of “Memory,” featuring Jessica Chastain and Peter Sarsgaard, whose stars were permitted to attend its premiere. This seemed fitting as the film revolves primarily around their performances.
Directed by Mexican filmmaker Michel Franco, “Memory” is a contemplative drama exploring the haunting echoes of the past. While the narrative’s complexity may be a bit elusive, the on-screen chemistry between Chastain and Sarsgaard becomes the focal point, captivating the audience.
Chastain portrays Sylvia, a single mother who, despite being 13 years sober, grapples with a troubled past. Employed at an adult daycare center, she also navigates the challenges of raising her teenage daughter, Anna. Sylvia’s protectiveness is evident through her swift and thorough actions, such as locking her apartment door and keeping a watchful eye on Anna during school recess. The film subtly communicates Sylvia’s underlying anxiety, hinting at a profound break within her that she has strived to cope with and move beyond.
The narrative takes a turn during Sylvia’s high school reunion when she encounters Saul Shapiro (Sarsgaard), a man with whom she shares a complicated history. Saul suffers from dementia, and Sylvia claims that he was once closely associated with a traumatic event from her past. The film introduces an intriguing dynamic as Sylvia, initially seeing Saul as a potential threat, later becomes entangled in caring for him during the day. The story unfolds with an exploration of their peculiar, increasingly affectionate connection.
Franco’s screenplay leaves ample space for Chastain and Sarsgaard to dominate the screen, both physically and emotionally. Their performances add depth to the characters, and the film delves into the fragile, enigmatic nature of their present rather than dwelling extensively on the past. Despite some predictability in the revelations about Sylvia’s history, the narrative gains strength from the evolving relationship between the characters.
While “Memory” may falter when attempting to unravel Sylvia’s past, it excels as a showcase for its lead actors. Chastain and Sarsgaard create a magnetic on-screen partnership, transforming tension into tenderness. The film becomes a poignant exploration of memory, love, and the unexpected connections that arise in the face of forgotten pasts.