Michel Franco’s heartbreaking drama “Memory” earned a strong eight-minute standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival on Friday night as stars Jessica Chastain and Peter Sarsgaard wiped away tears.
Franco, Chastain and Sarsgaard embraced as the audience cheered them on, with each taking their turn in the spotlight to accept the applause. After the crowd clapped for several minutes, Chastain was visibly emotional, dabbing at her eyes as she smiled with pride. Sarsgaard, too, got teary-eyed, and his wife Maggie Gyllenhaal was there to capture it all, taking a video of the ovation.
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As she walked into the theater prior to the screening, Chastain signed autographs and took selfies with fans extensively, making sure the desires of nearly everyone in sight were met.
Directed and written by Michel Franco, the film also stars Peter Sarsgaard and Elsie Fisher. “Memory” centers around Sylvia (Chastain),a “social worker who leads a simple and structured life,” according to the film’s synopsis. “This is blown open when Saul follows her home from their high school reunion. Their surprise encounter will profoundly impact both of them as they open the door to the past.”
Since “Memory” obtained an interim agreement from SAG-AFTRA, Chastain and Sarsgaard were present on the red carpet and at the premiere. At the film’s Venice press conference, Chastain admitted to being “nervous” to attend the festival amid the strike.
“There were actually some people on my team who advised me against it,” Chastain said. “[Actors are] often made to keep quiet in order to protect future working opportunities, and we are often told and reminded how grateful we should be. And that is the environment that I think has allowed work to be abused, to go unchecked for many decades. And is also the environment that has saddled members of our union with unfair contracts.”
“I am here because SAG-AFTRA has been explicitly clear that the way to support the strike is to post on social media, walk the picket line and to work and support interim agreement projects,” she added. “It’s what out national board, negotiating committee and our elected leadership has asked us to do.”
Chastain earned rave reviews out of the festival for her performance in “Memory.” Variety film critic Peter Debruge called her “unforgettable,” adding, “Chastain has made far more awards-friendly movies than this, but she’s never appeared more vulnerable on-screen — as both the character and a performer willing to tackle what’s sure to be a divisive character.”
In an interview with Variety, Franco said of casting Chastain in the film: “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.”
Mexican auteur Franco’s last two films, “New Order” (2020) and “Sundown” (2021), both premiered at Venice. Art thriller “New Order” was awarded the festival’s grand jury prize. Chastain, who won best actress at the Oscars last year for “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” last had a film premiere at Venice in 2011 with “Texas Killing Fields.”
“Memory” is currently seeking U.S. distribution.
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