Verdict: Jessica Chastain and Peter Sarsgaard are excellent in this unpredictable yet life-affirming story

  • Jessica Chastain, Peter Sarsgaard, Brooke Timber
  • February 23rd 2024
  • Michel Franco

Jessica Chastain plays a recovering alcoholic who forms a relationship with a man suffering from early on-set dementia.

After starring in big studio films and TV shows, Jessica Chastain has returned to her indie roots with Memory.

In Michel Franco’s low-key drama, she plays a recovering alcoholic named Sylvia, a single mother who is struggling with childhood trauma. At a high school reunion, she meets Saul (Peter Sarsgaard), who suffers from early on-set dementia.

Despite an unfortunate misunderstanding, Sylvia and Saul develop a friendship – and perhaps something more – that brings some much-needed light into their lives.

At first, the storyline might seem predictable but rest assured it doesn’t go down the route you’re expecting it to. There are still heavy, serious topics at play but the narrative isn’t as dark as it might initially seem; the story is actually surprisingly tender and hopeful.

The biggest issue is the choice of camera shots. Franco doesn’t shoot coverage, meaning he sets up his camera and doesn’t move it during a scene, whereas mostly films typically switch between close-ups and wider shots within any given sequence.

Because of his technique, we are sometimes further away from the characters than we should be and it would have been more satisfying to see the actors’ faces up close during the more emotional moments. They are still effective and moving but they could have been more impactful with close-ups.

After starring in a string of big studio projects, it was refreshing to see Chastain in an indie that required her to strip things right back. She wears no make-up, has messy hair and wears low-budget clothes. With all those bells and whistles taken away, her performance has to do all the work and she rises to the challenge effortlessly.

Sarsgaard won Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival for his performance and it’s easy to understand why. His portrayal of dementia is rare in its positivity – he shows its not all doom and gloom and Saul is more than his disease.

They are supported by the likes of Jessica Harper, Josh Charles, Elsie Fisher and Merritt Wever, who gives a subtle but poignant performance as Sylvia’s younger sister Olivia.

Memory is a life-affirming story about the importance of connection, companionship, support and empathy.

In cinemas from Friday 23rd February.

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