(director/writer: Michel Franco; cinematographer: Yves Cape; editors: Michel Franco/Oscar Figueroa Jara; cast: Jessica Chastain (Sylvia), Peter Sarsgaard (Saul), Elsie Fisher (Sara), Blake Baumgartner (Ashley), Josh Lucas (Isaac), Jessica Harper (Samantha), Josh Charles (Isaac), Brooke Timber (Anna), Merritt Wever (Olivia); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Michel Franco, Eréndira Núñez Larios, Alex Orlovsky, Duncan Montgomery; High Frequency Entertainment; 2023-USA/Mexico/Chile-in English)

“A piercing drama. It revolves around a complex tale about trauma and making connections.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An indie arthouse film from the provocateur Mexican director Michel Franco (“After Lucia”/ “New Order”) is a piercing drama. It revolves around a complex tale about dealing with trauma for a violated woman. Franco has made a film that has trauma taking shape as a violent reaction against women in society and the loss of memory attributed to either dementia or a forgetting of how to love another.

Sylvia (Jessica Chastain) is a troubled recovering alcoholic, sober for the last three years, living in Brooklyn and working in a mental health facility as a caretaker. The single mom resides with her teenage daughter Anna (Brooke Timber), and watches her closely so that she doesn’t misbehave and is not violated.

We learn that Sylvia was a victim of childhood sexual abuse by her father and was raped at 12 by a student, let down by a hypocritical mother (Jessica Harper) and ignored by a younger sister Olivia (Merritt Wever) too wrapped up in herself to help.

The disgruntled Sylvia is one night dragged along by the married Olivia to her high school reunion. Also attending the function is Saul (Peter Sarsgaard). She flees rather than be near someone she believes mistreated her in high school, but he follows her home on the subway and remains outside her building all night in the freezing rain. She finds him there wasted on the ground in the morning and calls the number on a card he possesses in his wallet that says to contact in case of an emergency his brother Isaac (Josh Charles).

When Sylvia visits him, she angrily confronts Saul over the damaging things he did to her in high school. But soon learns Saul has dementia.

When Saul’s college student daughter Sara (Elsie Fisher) asks her to care for Saul, she accepts. She soon learns what they have in common is loneliness.

When Saul and Sylvia begin to make physical contact, it seems they have too many hurdles to overcome to alter their bleak lives, and their story can only go so far in giving hope that they can deal with their disturbing ghosts from the past. But their characterizations are emotionally moving.

The evocative performances of Chastain and Sarsgaard as vulnerable characters, gives this heavy film at least a glimmer of hope that people can change their ways if they really want to.

It played at the Venice Film Festival.