My first theater movie after one and a half years since the Coronavirus Pandemic.
MOVIE OF THE YEAR
5 STARS OUT OF 5 ( OUTSTANDING )
DIRECTOR AND CO-WRITER : FLORIAN ZELLER
ENGLISH, 2020 – 2021
Seen In Rialto Cinemas, Newmarket, Auckland. June 2021
WARNING : This movie has stunning technique. It springs surprise upon surprise. I recommend you watch it first before returning to the review.
REVIEW BEGINS :
Technique is King. Emotion is Emperor. A beautiful blend of both is a Saint. Florian Zeller, as debut film director and co-writer, conspires to construct a quietly electrifying tale of an aged gentleman that is almost spiritual in the way it destroys the everyday reality of his mind. By the end, he is finished twice over, but we are less or more reborn in our empathy. Pics shows rather than tells an unravelling helix of dementia. But this could well be your story too.
Cinema is not new to stories of dementia. The challenge is how to deliver another such story with fresh impact. In ‘Gravity’, Alfonso Cuaron made us go up there in outer space with Sandra and George. How about inner space where there is no gravity of memory to anchor you ? What if you could see the world exactly through these Alzheimerian eyes ? Zeller is visionary in this vicarious transfer from his own play ‘ Le Pere’.
This is the ‘Memento’ of a man whose sole mementoes are now plaques and tangles. The first ten minutes or so of the movie are seemingly commonplace. Anne (Olivia Colman), a lady ostensibly in her forties, walks up to a commodious many-roomed apartment where her octogenarian father Anthony (Anthony Hopkins) is staying. Talk centers on finding a good care-giver for him, considering he’s worn out quite a few. Anthony’s memory, it progressively becomes clear, is nebulous, but he’s the last man in London to admit so. To his credit, he never forgets his daughter’s name, with a little help from the fact it is comprised of the first part of his own name. Anne leaves, and later, he’s befuddled to find a man sitting in the drawing room.
What on earth are you doing here in my house, and who are you ? Anthony wonders. Turns out that the man is the owner of the apartment, and Anthony’s son-in-law to boot, with Anthony himself the newbie who moved in as he could not cope in his own place. “Anne“ returns later and Anthony is shaken to see she’s a different woman ! At this point, so are we, wondering whose mind is playing tricks on whom. A young winsome lady turns up for the first time as his care-giver, but we can’t really be sure she’ll be the same person later. Anne and Anthony walk up the hallway to their apartment and we, as much as Anthony, are sure it’s the same apartment seen before but the door opens to… Later, he’s called for dinner, a bruising affair, where The Aged P gets roasted as much as the chicken. He thinks he’s got a reprieve the next morning with the nice gentle young lady as his caregiver but his morning steps soon devilishly segue into the same nocturnal couch from where Anne calls him again for that dreaded dinner !
The story is not meant to be a wide-ranging treatise on the trappings of dementia. Zeller for dramatic and psychologic purpose, narrows his treatment of the disorder to some key elements – the mixing of faces, muddling of places, flipping of day’s phases, and the conflation of cases. As our view is the same of that of Anthony’s, we are in his shoes and share his confusion and consternation. Zeller does not hesitate to spin the wheel vertiginously – rather than whizzing out the window in artifice, the effect is to immerse and identify deeper and deeper into the shuffling cards of his collapsing life.
An unexpected bonus is the stages of adulthood seen here, as embodied in that meme you may have seen – youth has time but no money, middle age may have money but little time and old age has both money and time but something vital is lost. Laura, the young caregiver, is portrayed to wonderful effect by the awfully christened Imogen Poots whose limpid eyes and smiling mouth dance a tango of emotions from delight to vulnerability to sly smarts. Olivia Williams and Olivia Colman are both excellent in embodying the care and concerns foisted upon those in middle age. Anthony Hopkins does not need to do more here than he did in ‘Silence Of The Lambs’ or ‘ Remains Of The Day ‘. He is his usual impeccable self, essaying autumn with a heart of summer slowly cut down by hail. But with the film’s beguiling, bracing structure backing his role’s spine, Anthony’s persona becomes as escalatingly impactful as his plight.
Prior to pic, I wondered how true to life it would stay. Past the elliptical little epic, true to life or not, I was simply shaken into deeper empathy. Pic rather subtly shows the changed populace of London – the doctor, amongst others, is Indian ( “Dr.Sarai” ). The ninety-seven minutes runtime folds coolly before the potency dissipates, aided with butter-smooth slips and splices in time by editor Yorgos Lamprinos. Ludovico Einaudi is beautifully in sync with the film’s cadences, often affording it the silences it needs. With its ruthless insider view, “The Father“ makes the outsider perspective almost irrelevant. At one point, Anthony cries out for his mother. Considering what we’ve been through, we perfectly understand why an octogenarian would feel the need to do so. Lucky for Anthony, his mother is nearby in more ways than one.
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