Father, The (2020)

A tour de force of screenwriting, acting and editing, all based on a deceptively straightforward premise—a woman and her old father who is suffering from memory loss.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Review #2,152

Dir. Florian Zeller
2020 | UK | Drama | 97 mins | 2.39:1 | English
PG13 (passed clean) for some strong language, and thematic material

Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman, Mark Gatiss, Olivia Williams, Imogen Poots
Plot: A man refuses all assistance from his daughter as he ages. As he tries to make sense of his changing circumstances, he begins to doubt his loved ones, his own mind and even the fabric of his reality.
Awards: Won 2 Oscars – Best Leading Actor; Best Adapted Screenplay; Nom. for 4 Oscars – Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress, Best Film Editing, Best Production Design; Official Selection (Sundance)
International Sales: Embankment
(SG: Shaw Organisation)

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Father-Daughter; Dementia
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream

Viewed: In Theatres – Shaw Lido
Spoilers: No

I’ll be honest.  I wasn’t that excited to want to see this (well, I’ve seen enough sappy movies about dementia over the years) but damn, this is hands-down my favourite of all the Best Picture Oscar nominees this year. 

A tour de force of screenwriting, acting and editing, The Father, adapted from director Florian Zeller’s own play for the big screen, is surely one of the most emotionally wrecking films of 2020. 

The premise is simple but its execution is anything but.  Through the story of Anthony (as played by Sir Anthony Hopkins in one of his esteemed career’s finest ever performances), an old man suffering from memory loss—and from his perspective (which is what makes The Father so utterly fascinating)—Zeller’s work immerses us into the interiority of his confused mind so seamlessly that it is hard to believe that it is just precise screenwriting and editing at work. 

Hopkins is truly sensational, and together with Olivia Colman’s strong supporting role as Anthony’s daughter, they are a big reason why The Father succeeds so admirably. 

“Paris. They don’t even speak English there.”

Yet it is also the small details and alterations in production design that prove just as effectual, subtly changing the atmosphere of its various interior spaces that can consequently be psychologically afflicting. 

How does it feel to lose yourself and your bearings, your sense of surroundings, even misremembering names or imagining faces? 

Zeller’s secret seems to be that when we experience the interiority of the mind (that is to say, the character’s perspective) misaligning or decoupling entirely from the interiority of physical space (loosely put, the mise-en-scene) and time (a case of the editing technique serving the psychological rather than simply plot), we get maximum mental chaos. 

The film is perfectly coherent of course, so much so that, consciously, we see the techniques at work, but unconsciously, we succumb to them.  This is quite radical if you think about it. 

Put together, The Father is a complex, heartbreaking work—it tore me apart and hit me in ways that I never thought was possible. 

Grade: A




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