The Father is the debut film of Florian Zeller; it is also based on Zeller’s own acclaimed 2012 play Le Père and has deservedly been one of the most critically acclaimed pieces of cinema this past year. Featuring the impressive cast of Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman, and Rufus Sewell, the film tells the story of 80-year-old Anthony (Hopkins), who fights against wanting carers despite his deteriorating memory and his daughter Anne’s (Colman) insistence. Impressively set in primarily one location, Zeller’s story is a grounded, suspenseful, and truly heart-breaking exploration of dementia, grief, and in so many ways, loss.
The opening of Zeller’s film is truly a masterclass in screenwriting, as the story begins with Anne coming to visit her father after he has scared yet another carer away. In roughly 7-8 minutes, the film intelligently establishes the significance of Anne’s goal of finding a suitable living arrangement for her father. This is done through both her words and the slow reveal of Anthony’s deteriorating health, and through their engaging conversation, Zeller drops various storytelling devices that will play a significant part in this narrative moving forward, such as highlighting different rooms in Anthony’s flat. It’s also in the opening where audiences become accustomed to the emotional rollercoaster they are in for, and this is encapsulated by Anthony’s emotional question to Anne: “What’s gonna become of me?” which is the question audiences are already subconsciously asking themselves.
In the hands of a less daring filmmaker, The Father may have veered down the easy path of exploiting its central character, creating quite a different family-related drama. Although it does tease that possibility, what the film ultimately provides us with is far more powerful and original, as the story unfolds through us sharing Anthony’s dementia-plagued experiences. We are introduced to characters but unable to confidently label them with a name, and a scene can start and moments later seemingly start again with a different order of the events. It’s a film where remarkably little happens, but at the same time, so much is happening before our very eyes. Zeller expertly forces you to feel like you’re in an endless cycle of confusion much like Anthony is, yet in actuality, the story is expertly progressing through Anthony’s worsening state.
Zeller and his fellow writer Christopher Hampton most certainly deserve a great deal of praise for how they’ve pieced together this narrative, but equally, the technical department has done a remarkable job helping bring this complexly laid-out tale to life. The editing is seamless, allowing the scenes to flow without a hitch. In addition to this, Ben Smithard’s cinematography beautifully captures Anthony’s ever-changing surroundings, and the long, at times shadowy-looking takes of Anthony while he’s in the middle of a conversation with a character who’s off-screen heightens the suspense and increases the audience’s concern for the main character.
Ultimately, what makes The Father the engrossing and ultimately heart-breaking film it is, is the performances. The entire cast deserves plaudits, but none more so than Hopkins, who delivers arguably the finest performances of his career. The actor takes you on an emotional rollercoaster with his spellbinding performance from the get-go. One moment he angers you by berating his caring daughter, the next he charms you, and finally, as he does in the painful climactic scene, Hopkins’ effortless shift in tone and facial expressions make you weep for this once capable, strong character. The big-screen icon puts on a masterful performance throughout but with his performance in the closing moments, Hopkins shows incredible emotional depth while elevating the entire film – more than justifying his victory at the Oscars.
One could argue that the film can lose a little momentum at times due to its approach and repetitive nature. However, that’s perhaps one of the few complaints one could make against this fantastic film. It is truly a meaningful story, and Zeller’s approach of having the audience feel the effects of dementia makes The Father a truly eye-opening film that will have a profound impact on the viewer once the credits roll.
The Father will be available on Blu-ray and DVD on August 30th.