Mexican auteur Michel Franco’s latest film, “Memory,” starring Jessica Chastain and Peter Sarsgaard, world premieres in competition at the Venice Film Festival.
The film is his third successive bow on the Lido after “New Order” (2020), which won the grand jury prize, and “Sundown” (2021).
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“Memory” follows Sylvia (Chastain), a social worker who leads a simple and structured life revolving around her daughter, her job and her AA meetings. This is disrupted when Saul (Sarsgaard) follows her home from their high school reunion. Their encounter profoundly impacts both of them as they open the door to the past.
“I’ve always been interested in broken people and dysfunctional families. But in this case, the approach was a bit different in terms of where the characters arrive to. I was interested in exploring the possibilities of people coming to terms with the past, if that ever happens, and how people can find common ground or not, depending on all the experiences they have,” Franco told Variety.
In film after film, Franco explores the lives of people who are on the margins of society, despite appearing to be entrenched in it. “I’m fascinated by outsiders, I think the most interesting characters are those that don’t fit,” Franco said. “As a teenager, I was always feeling that I had been born in the wrong place — I never felt quite in the right place. And I think that turned me into a filmmaker. That fed my curiosity and it’s always more interesting when people don’t simply accept their environment and are creating something, not just saying ‘yes’ to whatever came their way.”
Care workers also fascinate Franco and several of his films feature them, including Chastain’s central role in “Memory.” “I admire people that devote their lives to helping others. And it turns out that in life, they are rarely appreciated,” Franco said. “They’re either taken for granted or often have a hard time doing what they do, because not only they are not recognized, but they’re going through a lot of trouble. Sometimes they’re invisible. It’s more to try to understand those characters that really give away everything to others, which is unnatural in our society, because everyone does the opposite.”
Franco says that the decision to cast Oscar-winner Chastain was a “no-brainer.” The actor was familiar with his work, especially “New Order,” and it was a natural next step to work together. “Jessica is possibly the best actress in the states right now, it’s not an exaggeration to say she’s the best actress in the world,” Franco said, adding that the suggestion to cast Sarsgaard, whose previous work he rates highly, came from Chastain. “I wanted to make that decision with Jessica, because, it’s so important, the chemistry and the whole film relies on the tension of those characters,” Franco said.
“Memory” has been granted a SAG-AFTRA interim waiver, meaning that its stars are likely to attend the film’s premiere in Venice. On the Hollywood strikes, Franco says that they are a “very reasonable and fair” fight for basic rights.
Franco previously shot “Chronic” in Los Angeles, which was his first time shooting in the U.S. He was drawn to New York as many of his favorite films are set there and the city is full of great actors, including several who are in the “Memory” cast. He plans to continue making films in the U.S. and in Mexico.
“I’ll do both and maybe I’ll also make films in other places,” Franco said. “It is very tempting to keep working with such talented actors, like Jessica and Peter and Tim Roth [who he worked with in “Chronic” and “Sundown”] and every other talented actor that’s based in the States, not necessarily American. That’s what gets me back time and again. And also fact that we’re neighbors — it is only a four-hour flight from Mexico City to New York. We’re all North Americans and we have a very complex relationship as countries so it comes naturally in many ways.”
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