Memory Review

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Michel Franco has made a surprisingly buoyant film about an alcoholic survivor of child abuse in his new work Memory. The Mexican director’s violent and uncompromising narratives such as After Lucia and Chronic have positioned him as something of a cinematic sadist who enjoys causing pain to his characters; however, he takes up a different kind of screen torture here; one that seems almost feel-good in its theme of redemption instead.

This is not at all clear in the beginning when Sylvia (Jessica Chastain) enters with a rather furtive demeanor; she is an ex-addict who works with adults that have learning disabilities. Her face portrays no emotion as if her life has been planned: AA meetings, that stern attitude towards childcare, and her house is guarded by a security system that resembles Fort Knox. However, once she meets Saul (Peter Sarsgaard), a nice but lost former schoolmate, all these walls slowly tumble… only to expose how deep the roots of abuse can go and how it spreads out beneath.

Franco has created an unexpectedly astute movie about recovery from trauma. The frequent cruelty of Sylvia — “You deserve to be the way you are,” abandoning Saul alone in the woods without his Emergency Contact lanyard — demonstrates how even slight perceived threats or triggers can cause the path of recovery to dissolve into quicksand. Rather than being an ideal victim, Sylvia’s background has made her into a contrasting personality that often runs counter.

Sarsgaard holds his own against Chastain. His dementia isn’t just about suffering, but offers avenues for empathy; after sharing a painful memory with him, Sylvia permits him to write it down so he doesn’t forget—one of many heartwarming moments scattered throughout this film. Instead of having him speak about his illness monotonously, there are smart directing choices made here; first, we see Saul come into focus; then when he speaks he is framed from the neck down—this serves to highlight his cognitive blurredness – the distinction between mind and body. Is he love-sick? Or perhaps caught inside the foggy brain jail cell of recurring thoughts? Are those two things really so different sometimes?

Many films covering similar themes like this one tend to be trite by trying too hard to evoke emotions. Except for some moments where dialogue seems unnecessary Memory remains captivating because it plays its cards close to the chest.

Read Memory Movie Review on Fmovies

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