The Movie Waffler New to VOD - MEMORY | The Movie Waffler


social worker is followed home from her high school reunion by an enigmatic man suffering from memory loss.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Michel Franco

Starring: Jessica Chastain, Peter Sarsgaard, Merritt Wever, Brooke Timber, Elsie Fisher, Jessica Harper, Josh Charles

Memory poster

Within narrative cinema, it is a truth universally bandied about that by a film's third act the main character should have learned something, or, at least, somehow spiritually developed over the course of the preceding action. The dynamic is what makes cinematic storytelling, with all its associated structures and fulfilments, such a balm to real life, which is more akin to the cyclic situations of Groundhog Day: a mediocre, routine equivalence of same journey to work, same people in work, same grievances rattling about in the old brain box. Not so in films, where the chief denizens of a screenplay are shifting inexorably towards an escapist consummation of their best selves. In narrative cinema we are moved from one state of equilibrium to another, a structure so recognised that this year's Best Director Oscar winner built a whole USP upon the disruption of this narrative organisation in his earlier Memento, within which Guy Pearce had to recall where he was from before he could get where he was going (fond memories of people who owned the DVD excited they could "play the story in order"-!).

Memory review

In Michel Franco's Memory (the bluntness of that title, though) Peter Sarsgaard's Saul is located within a similar stasis. Affected by early onset of dementia, Saul forgets where he is, what he is supposed to be doing and even who he is/was. In the wake of a thematically congruous high school reunion, Saul follows an ex-classmate home unsolicited. Not knowing what else to do, when he is refused entry he stays outside her house all night. The classmate is Sylvia and is played by Jessica Chastain, who is juxtaposed with Saul via her own issues with the past: Sylvia is an alcoholic in recovery who is coming to terms with repressed childhood abuse. A hoped for third act reveal which never materialises is that Saul fixates on our Jess, a camp icon, as he is simply following his gay instincts which have been hitherto obscured due to his condition and heteronormative societal expectations. But no, he trails because Sylvia looks like Jessica Chastain, and therefore he fancies her. Thus, the central romance of this sweet, involving story begins...

Memory review

It isn't smooth sailing though. At first, Sylvia confuses Saul with a perpetrator of a horrific sexual attack which happened to her when she was a pre-teen. As grim as this plot mystery is, it makes for an intriguing moral situation. The recall of both characters, and regarding such an emotively resonant episode, is unreliable, yet the stakes are absolute. The resonant guilt of such an act would be ongoing punishment itself: if Saul is guilty, then maybe he would rather forget. The problem is that this plotline is quickly tied off when it transpires (spoiler) that Saul arrived at the high school a year after the alleged attack (spoiler ends). This early denouement characterises Memory, which throughout pursues and then passes on potential plotlines with a similar lack of focus as confounds its beleaguered lead.

Memory review

As Sylvia and Saul's relationship tentatively develops there is conflict created by the families of both parties, but which fails to fully persuade (Sylvia's mother is played by Jessica Harper, though, with her ethereal looks put to menacing effect here via her self-interested safeguarding of what really happened to her daughter). And which, to be honest, the film doesn't seem that interested in engaging with anyway, instead revelling in its two excellent performances (from, yes, two very handsome actors) negotiating an impugned relationship, and largely succeeding. It's absolutely convincing and utterly lovely. I am a sucker for this sort of thing (I'm writing this on Valentine's week, after all), but Memory is undeniably perspicuous in how the attendant challenges of Sylvia and Saul's coupling are woven into the more quotidian trials of rediscovering love and courting a new partner in middle age - there is a gentle sex scene which was so sweetly awkward and intimate I had to look away. Transient, urgent, with no real idea how long it will stick around for: love is captured within the shifting boundaries of Memory's narrative implications.

Memory is on UK/ROI VOD now

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