Memory review – Jessica Chastain and Peter Sarsgaard shine in delicate, trauma-fuelled anti-romcom

<span>‘Beautifully balanced performances’: Peter Sarsgaard and Jessica Chastain in Memory.</span><span>Photograph: Landmark Media/Alamy</span>
‘Beautifully balanced performances’: Peter Sarsgaard and Jessica Chastain in Memory.Photograph: Landmark Media/Alamy

“Hurt people hurt people”, or so the truism goes. This uncharacteristically hopeful film from Michel Franco, the Mexican director of 2012’s gruelling Cannes prize winner After Lucia, reminds us of a related truth: two damaged souls can sometimes be damaged in exactly the right ways to heal each other. This might be the case for Sylvia (Jessica Chastain), a social worker and single-mom survivor of childhood sexual abuse, and Saul (Peter Sarsgaard), a widower with early-onset dementia – though it’s not immediately obvious from their anti-romcom meet-creepy. This involves him stealthily following her home from a high-school reunion and rough-sleeping on her doorstep.

Gradually and delicately, Sylvia and Saul’s tessellating traumas are revealed by a beautifully balanced pair of lead performances – though their happy-ever-after is never assured. Do also keep an eye out for the great Merritt Wever (Unbelievable, Marriage Story) at work in a supporting role. She plays Sylvia’s sister, Olivia – ostensibly the sensible, grounded sibling, with her stable family life and even temper. Then, in one knockout scene, Wever shows how quickly such composure can crumble, when repressed childhood memories surface at last.