Combustible Celluloid Review - Memory (2023), Michel Franco, Michel Franco, Jessica Chastain, Peter Sarsgaard, Merritt Wever, Brooke Timber, Elsie Fisher, Josh Charles, Jessica Harper
Combustible Celluloid
With: Jessica Chastain, Peter Sarsgaard, Merritt Wever, Brooke Timber, Elsie Fisher, Josh Charles, Jessica Harper
Written by: Michel Franco
Directed by: Michel Franco
MPAA Rating: R for some sexual content, language and graphic nudity
Running Time: 100
Date: 12/22/2023

Memory (2023)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Forget Me Not

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It's an odd, perhaps unlikely story, but Michel Franco's elegant, clear-eyed direction and fine performances all around make this romantic drama a surprisingly absorbing experience.

Sylvia (Jessica Chastain) works at an adult day care center, and is thirteen years sober, the mother of a teen daughter, Anna (Brooke Timber). One night at a party for her old high school, a man follows her home and spends the night standing outside her apartment. She gets hold of the man's brother, Isaac (Josh Charles), and she learns that the man, Saul (Peter Sarsgaard), has dementia, and has no recollection of what he was doing.

Later, Sylvia confronts Saul, claiming that he was among a group of high school boys who abused her when she was 12 years old. Saul cannot remember. But Sylvia's sister Olivia (Merritt Wever) discovers that Saul wouldn't have been at school at the same time as Sylvia. Meanwhile, Isaac notices how Saul seems taken with Sylvia and hires her to watch over him during the day. Things take a turn when Saul and Sylvia find their bond growing stronger.

A movie about abuse, alcoholism, and dementia might seem like a chore. It would certainly not promise warmth and hope, but that's exactly what happens in Memory: two broken people finding each other at exactly the right time. Writer/director Franco's wide, largely unmoving, and delicately-composed frames somehow zeroes in on character emotions, even when the performers are underplaying (which they are most of the time).

Like the filmmaker's previous film Sundown, this one deals with a character existing outside of time, on his own terms, which allows for a much slower, more curious approach to the storytelling. It generates compassion as well, and it's hard not to smile along as Saul is greeted by a friendly server in a restaurant, and asked if he'd like his "usual." A beat later, Sylvia asks what his usual is, and he answers, "I have no idea." Again, it's an odd idea, perhaps making little sense in theory, but in practice, Memory is a beautiful little movie.

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