Memory  (15) |Close-Up Film Review

Dir. Michael Franco, Mexico/US, 2023, 100 mins

Cast: Jesssica Chastain, Peter Saarsgaard

Review by Carol Allen

Jesssica Chastain plays Sylvia, a carer in a day centre  and, we later discover, a recovering alcoholic who hasn’t had a drink for 13 years.   She lives with her teenage daughter  (Brooke Timber).  From her body language we see that she is a reserved, even fearful person, who hangs onto her shoulder bag like a security blanket, frequently has her arms crossed protectively across her chest and has a complicated security system fitted to her apartment.  

On a rare social outing, she attends her high school reunion with her sister Olivia (Merritt Weaver).   A man (Peter Sarsgaard) comes and sits next to her, just stares at her and then follows her home.   So, is this the beginning of a stalker thriller?  No, it is an exploration, as the title tells us, of that strange phenomenon, the human memory.

The man is Saul, who is suffering from early onset dementia and is living in the care of his brother Isaac (Josh Charles).  Sylvia pursues the relationship as she is convinced Saul was part of a gang who sexually assaulted her when she was at school and she wants closure.  But Saul has no memory of the abuse and as it turns out,  Sylvia’s memory is false too.   It couldn’t have been him and she has to apologise. 

Isaac then asks Sylvia to act as Saul’s carer during the day, and a relationship develops between a  man with hardly any memories and a woman with too many from her complicated life and family history.  It’s a relationship which could be healing for both of them.  It is our memories that make us who we are.   But to what extent are they real, are they accurate?  And who are we without those memories?

The film takes quite a long time to get going and initially Sylvia is a somewhat distant and not very empathetic character.   But when Saul appears, the gentle manner and sweet smile that Saarsgaard gives to the character warms both Sylvia and what has up to then been a rather cold story.