Starring Jessica Chastain, Peter Sarsgaard, Merritt Wever, Brooke Timber, Elsie Fisher, Josh Charles, Jessica Harper
There is an apparent reason why you didn’t see Jessica Chastain as a nominee for Best Actress at the Golden Globe Awards last weekend. Why her name also doesn’t appear in the list of nominees for this weekend’s Critics Choice Awards (for which I am a voter). Her latest film “Memory,” which debuted at the Venice Film Festival and I mentioned briefly in my Toronto Film Festival coverage, won Best Actor for Peter Sarsgaard. Chastain did land an Indie Spirit nomination, but that’s it so far. “Memory’” the latest from director Michel Franco (“Sundown”), was purchased by newbie micro distributor Ketchup Entertainment, which hasn’t a clue how to market, promote, or create buzz for a film that happens not just to be good, but better than many of the movies we see receiving accolades.
Sylvia (Chastain) is a no-nonsense, hardworking single mom who survived a traumatic childhood. As an adult, every day is still a challenge, including her sobriety. Returning home from a high school reunion with her younger sister (Weaver), a man she can’t quite place in her memory follows her home. The next morning, he is still outside her door, soaked from the rain, completely disoriented. She finally reconnects him with his family, who explain that Saul (Sarsgaard) has dementia. The next time they meet, Sylvia reveals who she thinks he is and what he did to her as a teenager. He is shocked and says he can’t remember. From accusations to becoming his care person, Sylvia and Saul embark on a dicey path that will destroy or rehabilitate both their lives.
The performances are certainly the main attraction in “Memory,” a film that never goes where you expect.
Indiewire’s Anne Thompson said at the onset of the awards race that she worried about this film’s path, not only because of its distributor but also because it broke so late into the conversation. She also voiced concern that Chastain, who recently won an Academy Award for portraying Tammy Faye Bakker, is so good in every role that critics, audiences, and voters take her for granted. The performances are certainly the main attraction in “Memory,” a film that never goes where you expect. The tension in both the screenplay and Sylvia’s behavior is impressively held throughout the short running time.
Memory is thought-provoking on so many issues, including abuse, motherhood, family secrets, and love. It’s another layer of dementia on screen we haven’t witnessed yet. Even with all the serious topics, like other Franco films, it’s sprinkled with touching moments of humanity and levity. On the festival circuit, Chastain revealed that the budget was so low for the film that she chose and bought the clothes she would wear as Sylvia based on what her character could afford. The actress also wears little to no makeup in the film, as authenticity was a high priority for the story. If this award-worthy film sounds like your kind of movie, you may have to work a bit to see it. While the limited release on December 22nd came and went without much of a pulse, it opened wider in January.
Chastain and Sarsgaard give two of the best performances from 2023 that are getting zero awards attention due to faulty release distribution.