Starring: Jessica Chastain, Peter Sarsgaard, Brooke Timber, Merrit Wever, Josh Charles, and Jessica Harper
Director: Michel Franco
It's wild how much the performances of great actors can elevate a film, but in the case of Memory, that's exactly what Jessica Chastain’s and Peter Sarsgaard’s do. Their nuance in approaching these heavy roles is something to marvel at. Not that Memory isn’t great without them, mind you. Writer/director Michel Franco's deft hand at going about the subjects is delicate and precise, and though I don't see his slow-moving nature working for you if it hasn't before, it works for me. And, again, even if you're not totally into the plot, you still have two incredible performances that are beyond worthwhile.
I don’t want to take anything away from Memory. It’s a well-crafted film that features some heartfelt performances from Jessica Chastain and Peter Sarsgaard. It just doesn’t feel… special. There are times when director Michel Franco presents a devastating idea, but then be seemingly gun-shy of tackling it. There are a few of these missed opportunities in the film, so what we’re left with is a well-acted story that doesn’t feel wholly unique. The great performances of Chastain and Sarsgaard do almost all the heavy lifting, which is necessary because this story would certainly be lacking without them.
Having missed Memory at Venice Film Festival, I was happy to get a second chance when I attended Zurich Film Festival a month later. Sadly, I learned that I didn’t miss anything worthwhile. Sure, it has good performances from Jessica Chastain and Peter Sarsgaard, but neither are performing at the top of their game. Most importantly, though, the story sets up several fascinating pathways to explore, but never follows through. In fact, it leaves so many intriguing plot threads dangling that one must wonder if this final product is the director’s true vision, or if the studio made cuts to remove some potentially controversial story beats.
Memory could end up being one of the most delicate films of the year. With profoundly touching performances from Jessica Chastain and Peter Sarsgaard that should not go overlooked, the film offers a tender yet heartbreaking look at two wounded individuals: one who can’t remember and the other who remembers too much. While providing this introspective look at one’s traumatic memories from multiple perspectives, writer/director Michel Franco does a fine job of gently crafting these moments, even though it can all feel slightly repetitive and sluggish at times.
This film was reviewed by Adriano, Nick and Quentin as part of Bitesize Breakdown's coverage of the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival and the 2023 Zurich Film Festival, respectively.