Memory Movie Review: Michel Franco Pens Devastating Film About the Scars in Your Past

Memory Stars Jessica Chastain and Peter Sarsgaard and is Directed by Michel Franco

Review: The little moments really elevate Memory, and luckily for viewers of Michel Franco’s newest movie, there are a bunch of them. Jessica Chastain and Peter Sarsgaard both give reduced performances that explode at a moment’s notice.

jessica chastain and peter sarsgaard in memory film 2023
Jessica Chastain and Peter Sarsgaard in Memory (2023)

Memory Review

After a long, long festival run and limited theatrical run for his newest movie, Michel Franco’s Memory is finally available to watch on VOD. Franco has been on my radar since I saw Sundown in 2021, and it felt right that he was pairing up with Jessica Chastain for a quieter character study about how the past can affect the present in profound and moving ways. The cast seemed right, and Michel Franco is a talented filmmaker that can make these harrowing ideas pop in a truly singular way.

And yet, I think the polar ends of Memory may be just a bit too drastic for my liking, where the happiest moments feel soft and uplifting, and the most upsetting feel soul crushing. Michel Franco achieved the latter emotions to great effect in Sundown, and Memory tries to land an equally punishing knockout punch, while keeping the spirits light enough to avoid turning general viewers away.

It’s more of a straightforward drama for Franco this time around, choosing to set the movie in an American city over the vacation spot of Acapulco that juxtaposes with tone so jarringly. And where Sundown gives the feeling that the walls are slowly closing in on Tim Roth over time, the walls have already cratered in on Jessica Chastain here.

Chastain gives an incredibly restrained and understated performance that really carries the film. Her character, Sylvia, balances two jobs watching over adults with disabilities, her frequently fraught relationship with her daughter Anna (Brooke Timber), constant confrontations with her volatile family, and a burgeoning relationship with a man with dementia (Saul, played by Peter Sarsgaard with his impeccable, effortless charm).

Needless to say, Sylvia has had the world bearing down on her from a young age. Repeated mentions of sexual assault since she was 12 lurk through every scene in the film, always backing the harsh worldview she can’t seem to shake. While her relationship with Saul turns out to be the sweetest aspect of Memory, it sure doesn’t start that way as Sylvia immediately accuses Saul of being one of the predators that assaulted her years ago.

But that friendship blossoms in a surprisingly endearing way throughout Memory. I’m still relatively new to Michel Franco’s work, but I figured that the guy who could make Sundown was only capable of making the most tormented movies ever, as that film messed me up at an incredibly efficient rate. Perhaps it surprised me a bit too much just how dedicated Memory was to being an uplifting film in the grand scheme of things (even if we take a while to get there) and perhaps that is why I’m feeling like this clashing of two tones didn’t fully win me over on first viewing.

Yet there are enough sustainable performances and narrative threads to recommend Memory. It’s not for the faint of heart, and some of the subject matter can be painstakingly brutal to watch Sylvia work through (to great effect by Jessica Chastain), but the final product lands with an intense, bittersweet punch. The little moments really elevate this movie, and luckily for Memory, there are a bunch of them.

Score: 3/5

Genre: Drama

Watch Memory (2023) on VOD here

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Memory Film Cast and Credits

memory 2023 movie


Jessica Chastain as Sylvia

Peter Sarsgaard as Saul

Merritt Wever as Olivia

Josh Charles as Isaac

Elsie Fisher as Sara

Jessica Harper as Samantha

Brooke Timber as Anna


Director: Michel Franco

Writer: Michel Franco

Cinematography: Yves Cape

Editors: Óscar FigueroaMichel Franco

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Memory movie on Wikipedia

Memory film on IMDb