You go into a Michel Franco film (New Order and Sundown are recent HE favorites) with an understanding that dysfunction, severity and obsession will be served, and that some kind of rug will be be pulled out at some point. Franco doesn’t traffic in compassion and heartfelt currents as a general tendency; he does radical and harsh.

But that’s what I like or at least respect about Franco. He keeps the viewer on edge, and therein lies the tension.

So I was surprised when I saw Memory the other night and began to realize that it would be dealing the cards without the usual “uh-oh…when will the ferocious stuff happen?”

It’s basically a kind of strange-but-tender relationship thing…an acting-exercise drama about two damaged 40somethings — Jessica Chastain‘s Sylvia and Peter Sarsgaard‘s Saul — who probably shouldn’t get too deeply involved with each other because they have turbulent histories and are both too fucked up…Saul especially.

Memory is set in Brooklyn and you can really feel those down-in-the-weeds Brooklyn vibes. It settles into two families for the most part, and nobody’s really happy or steady or swingin’ from a star.

But the acting is so good and true…I felt immediately held and fascinated. I’m trying to think of the last time I saw a sexual relationship drama that had me thinking “wow, this might not end well and neither party seems to understand that…in fact it might end really badly.”

And yet things…I won’t say but this is easily the gentlest Franco film I’ve ever seen.

Sylvia is a cautious and brittle mom who works at an adult daycare center (a gathering of bruised and traumatized types) while raising the teenaged Anna (Brooke Timber).

Sylvia is wary of whatever might be around the corner, and so naturally she gradually gets involved — at first guardedly and tentatively, with Saul, who is clearly a bit weird but not dangerously so — a gentle, socially awkard beardo who’s plagued by some kind of dementia, and can’t seem to remember anything from the past.

Right away you’re wondering what semi-responsible woman (particularly one with a troubled parental and sexual history) would let this guy into her life?

The bottom line is that Chastain and Sarsgaard are quite the penetrators and dig-deepers, and for this reason alone Memory (Ketchup Entertainment, 12.22) is worth a watch.

Question: Why would a film distributor call itself Ketchup Entertainment? What if a similar operation called itself Mayonnaise Distribution? Or Miracle Whip Ltd.? Or Steak Sauce International? Or the Mustard Brothers?