Get us in your inbox


  • Film
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Photograph: Bohemia Media

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Jessica Chastain is on top form in this quietly incisive drama of half-remembered trauma

It’s not exactly a ‘meet-cute’.

Sylvia (Jessica Chastain) is a social worker and recovering alcoholic, 13 years sober. Taking a rare break from juggling work, over-protectively raising her teenage daughter and AA meetings to attend a high-school reunion, she is understandably creeped out when a man (Peter Sarsgaard) not only follows her home, but camps outside her New York apartment, all night, in the pouring rain. His name is Saul. As his friend Isaac (Josh Charles) explains, he’s suffering from a form of dementia that means he can remember the distant past, but has trouble making new memories. Sylvia, who remembers the past all too well, stuns Saul with a terrible accusation: that he and his friends, five years her senior, raped her at school when she was aged just 12. But is she right? Or is her memory playing tricks on her, of a different but no less destructive kind? And if Saul is innocent, as seems to be the case, can these two broken people find solace in each other’s company?

With his previous films, most recently Sundown (2021), Mexican writer-director Michel Franco displayed a talent for deceptively low-key, incisively observed stories about everyday people, mostly functioning dysfunctionals, whose lives are upended by sudden, unexpected events. It’s a testament to his skill as a storyteller that Memory survives a calamitously mishandled plot point to slowly reveal itself to be his best work since 2012’s After Lucia, the first of three of his films to win awards in Cannes.

Chastain is terrific as the stressed and brittle Sylvia

Chastain, who upheld the Oscar tradition of winning for her most outlandish performance (for The Eyes of Tammy Faye) is terrifically low-key as Sylvia, stressed and brittle, trying desperately to protect her daughter from the damage she suffered at the same young age, and reluctant to allow any external force into their lives. Adding to the subcutaneous family tensions are Sylvia’s estrangement from her mother (an icily brilliant Jessica Harper), whose refusal to believe her, decades ago, cannot be forgiven.

The buried trauma of their shared past, ironically sparked by a man who can make no new memories, finally emerges in a scene so raw and potent, Franco presents it as a single wide shot, as if not daring to interrupt it by cutting away.

It’s typical of the filmmaker’s austere approach; here his allergy to cinematic crutches such as non-diagetic music is amusingly highlighted by Saul’s fondness for playing Procol Harum’s ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’ on a loop. It’s remarkable that Franco isn’t better known, but those new to his work have two treats in store: this film, and a back catalogue worth digging into.

In UK cinemas Feb 23.

David Hughes
Written by
David Hughes

Cast and crew

  • Director:Michel Franco
  • Screenwriter:Michel Franco
  • Cast:
    • Jessica Chastain
    • Peter Sarsgaard
    • Josh Charles
    • Jessica Harper
You may also like
You may also like