Film Reviews
Photo courtesy of Ketchup Entertainment

Some films have lofty intentions and worthy ideas but fail to deliver them in a compelling, convincing way. That’s the sad situation for writer/director Michel Franco’s “Memory.” Anchored in Sylvia’s fragile existence, events begin with Sylvia clearly not enjoying a high school reunion. Uninvited, Saul joins her table and follows her home to Brooklyn.

After Saul sleeps all night in the rain outside Sylvia’s building, his brother Isaac is contacted and explains Saul’s early onset dementia. Sylvia, a recovering alcoholic, a social worker at a disabled adults day care center, and a single mother, believes she knew Saul in her teenage years and confronts him, befriends him, and becomes romantically involved with him, all in the service of farfetched developments.

The story uses characters to make plot points rather than delving intelligently into their complex psychological, emotional struggles. The implausible relationships and awkward incidents lack sound rationale, the characters’ personalities arguing against almost every twist and turn, from Sylvia caring for Saul to Saul’s dementia except when it suits the film for him to function quite well. Equally inconsistent in expressing her personal challenges, Sylvia behaves as erratically without insightful analysis of her heartbreaking failure to cope with sexual trauma. There’s also the late-to-the-show arrival of a mother clearly introduced in act three to play the villain, a deus-ex-machina attempt at facile explanation for Sylvia’s deep-seated problems.

The trauma of a child’s sexual abuse is monumental, deserving serious, in-depth consideration. So too the issue of early onset dementia, expressed in real life in diverse ways from day to day. That “Memory” tackles these significant challenges is admirable, but to then treat them as casual plot points is immensely disappointing and frustrating. The superb performances, contrasting in tone, by Jessica Chastain as Sylvia and Peter Sarsgaard as Saul deserve a much better script, one that would illuminate without histrionics and explain without contrived reveals. “Memory” is streaming on several platforms.

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