Daily Press (Sunday)

Chastain, Sarsgaard delve into the gray areas of ‘Memory’

- By Krysta Fauria

When Jessica Chastain first read the script for “Memory,” she was struck by the flurry of unanswered questions left swirling around in her head about issues pertaining to love, sex and consent — which might be antithetic­al to what some audiences expect from a movie.

“Sometimes I think films can be seen as like lectures of the right way of being,” she says.

But the Oscar winner does not subscribe to that philosophy of cinema. And it was writer and director Michel Franco’s willingnes­s to plumb gray areas and leave questions unanswered that ultimately persuaded Chastain to star in “Memory,” now playing in theaters.

“Memory” follows Sylvia (Chastain), who is hired by the family of a man named

Saul (Peter Sarsgaard) to keep him company as he navigates early onset dementia. Although her background in caretaking is a plus, Saul’s family mostly wants someone to spend time with him — until Sylvia is suspected of developing romantic feelings for Saul.

“It felt like a film that would be impossible to make within a studio system because there’d be so many people, especially in the political environmen­t we’re in, coming out of MeToo.” Chastain explains. “Everyone would be so afraid of making a mistake, of saying the wrong thing.”

Franco opted instead for an independen­t production and a budget so small that both Chastain and Sarsgaard laughed at its mention.

“If you drove by our set, you wouldn’t know there was a movie being shot,”

Sarsgaard chuckles. “The production design was frequently whatever was in the house when we got it. Actors provided a lot of their own clothes and, in circumstan­ces, did their own makeup.”

But their performanc­es were not hindered by the austere sets and minimal dialogue, thanks in part, no doubt, to Chastain’s and Sarsgaard’s experience­s in theater.

In the film, Saul’s brother eventually recants support for the arrangemen­t, telling Sarsgaard’s character that

he’s not able to make rational decisions.

“I don’t know what you’re doing. I don’t want to know,” the brother says to Sylvia after discoverin­g the pair in a kind of embrace while watching a movie.

“When I thought of it as a love story, I knew it was meant to be like a forbidden love story. I thought of them almost as teenagers,” Franco says. “I like the idea of broken people that are challengin­g society.”

As she deliberate­s on her relationsh­ip to Saul, Sylvia is also reckoning with her own past. Though she has for years said she was sexually assaulted in high school, her family members maintain she lied and poke holes in her stories — making the film’s title not just a reference to Saul’s condition.

“I was a little surprised about that because I didn’t develop it as a concept. I started writing, and then when I read the outline, I learned that ‘Memory’ had to be the title because it was about both of them,” Franco says. “The ways memories can be reshaped or the stories you tell yourself.”

Sarsgaard did extensive research prior to filming. He said a priority in making the film was to not make light of serious issues like dementia, sexual assault or addiction — and to not construct caricature­s of the people who deal with them.

“The first step in doing that is not to think of the trauma or the dementia as the character,”

Sarsgaard says. “These are the obstacles that the characters face.”

 ?? KETCHUP ENTERTAINM­ENT ?? Peter Sarsgaard and Jessica Chastain star in “Memory.”
KETCHUP ENTERTAINM­ENT Peter Sarsgaard and Jessica Chastain star in “Memory.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States