‘The Father’ Review
Alzheimer’s disease is a frequent topic in movies these days for the simple reason that so many are impacted either directly or through a friend or family member. The importance of memory to our core being cannot be over-stated. It’s crucial to who we are and what we feel. The Father, the film directorial debut from French playwright Florian Zeller, is an excellent and poignant tale, all too real for those who have experienced this with a loved one. Zeller adapted his own play (winning a Tony Award for Frank Langella) with his co-writer, Oscar winner Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons, 1988). It’s also one of the few films where set design is so crucial that it basically serves as the main character.
Whereas most of these movies provide the perspective of the caregiver or family members, this one is extraordinary in also giving us the point-of-view of the one suffering. Sir Anthony Hopkins plays Anthony, an 80-year-old Londoner who gets hurt, defensive, and a bit churlish when his daughter Anne (Oscar winner Olivia Colman, The Favourite, 2018) informs him that she’s met a man and is moving to Paris. Anne is working to find an acceptable caregiver for her father…one that he doesn’t run off in a matter of hours. Though Anne maintains a spirited front, it’s clear the responsibility is exhausting and draining – feelings of which any caregiver can surely relate.
Just about the time we get a feel for the flow and settle in for a family drama, filmmaker Zeller spins things topsy-turvy. We suddenly aren’t sure ‘what is what’ or ‘who is who.’ Olivia Williams (The Sixth Sense, 1999) is now Anne. She now has a husband, Paul – maybe Mark Gatiss or Rufus Sewell. The details of the apartment are slightly different, and instead of being Anthony’s place, it’s actually Anne’s. Or is it? Anthony tries to process these differences, just as we do. The interview with an in-home caregiver played by Imogen Poots brings out the joy and liveliness of Anthony, but a painting raises questions…as does the ongoing saga with Anthony’s favorite wristwatch. As viewers, we are baffled and disoriented; however, unlike Anthony, we are slowly able to process the flashes of data and slowly put the pieces together.
Anthony Hopkins delivers his best and most emotional work in years, while Olivia Colman continues her impressive run. In fact, the entire cast is spot-on. Complementing the performances is Peter Francis’ previously mentioned set design, which adds to both the confusion and the explanation. Also elevating the film is the work of film editor Yorgos Lamprinos and the score from Ludovico Einaudi. Hopkins’ character asks, “Who exactly am I?” and we feel the excruciating pain of realizing one’s persona is slipping away. This will be a challenging film to watch for anyone who has experienced this type of agonizing loss in their life, and Zeller’s film also serves as a warning to everyone else.