SSIFF 2023: MEMORY from Michel Franco

Jessica Chastain and Michel Franco at the theatre, after the screening
Jessica Chastain and Michel Franco after the film screening

In San Sebastian, you are not only very close to the sea but also to the stars. As one of the few popular US film actors, Jessica Chastain came to the SSIFF 2023 together with Mexican director Michel Franco. Together they presented MEMORY, which recently premiered in Venice. Franco and Chastain did not give a press conference.

People holding up their smartphones to take photos

But Chastain sought the closeness of the audience at the performance in the Teatro Victoria Eugenia. She took time for selfies, patiently faced a sea of smartphone cameras and, together with Franco, enjoyed the cheers and applause of the grateful audience before and after the performance.

Chastain and Franco coming on stage

Chastain and Franco on stage

MEMORY, as a US co-production, could only be included in the festival programme because it is an independent production. Here the unions were more lenient during the writer's strike. They know how important publicity is for films like MEMORY. It is true that Franco's film can boast Peter Saarsgard, who won the prize for best leading actor in Venice, in addition to Chastain in the other leading role. But the film is anything but entertainment. Franco takes his time, does not use the drama in the lives of the main characters Sylvia and Saul for gripping suspense, but keeps the film in an even low profile mood. Things are not put on the back burner but are addressed and expressed as they are.

Franco tackles heavy social issues: Alcoholism, dementia and inclusion, to name but a few. But the tenderly developing relationship between Sylvia and Saul and the impressive immediacy with which Franco, carried by a wonderful cast, brings situations of interpersonal closeness and conflict into the auditorium ground these issues.

Sylvia and Saul sit on a tree trunk and look at each other

In the end, MEMORY delivers something we may all need at the moment: a touching plea for the right to a little happiness, no matter what crap has happened in the past and present.