Wednesday, June 23, 2021

The Father – a fleeting but powerful glimpse at life with dementia

The Father examines the life of a man living with dementia in London. We dip in and out of different times, never quite sure how far apart they are, or how to explain what has just happened.

Confusion is baked into the audience experience. While at first, it feels like that an Inception-like diagram of what’s happening will be possible by the end of the 97-minute film, what Florian Zeller has created is much more brilliant.

The theatrical origins of The Father are obvious. It’s based on Zeller’s play La Père (which had been translated into English by Christopher Hampton), and retains the structure of scenes, incremental changes to the set, and consistent framing of the action.

The beauty of the film is that Anthony is at the heart of the story, not his carers or his daughter. So we glimpse his sense of paranoia, his frustration at a forced reduction in his independence, and his difficulty in rationalising what he is sensing happening around him.

Anthony Hopkins brings the central character to life, with an emotional range on display that captures forlorn, playful, vulnerable, hurt, resigned and rage. He was superb in The Two Popes, but is Oscar-deserving in The Father. Opposite him, Olivia Colman at times acts without words or movement: her presence and facial expression sum up her inner thoughts. Imogen Poots finally adds moments of on-screen joy and delight when she turns up as the latest in a line of carers. But soon the weary fog of confusion and brokenness descends on a man who is caught between his past and an unknown present.

The final 10-15 minutes bring just enough clarity to release the audience from scratching their heads all the way home. Yet the revelations that seep through, along with the gentle, calming touch of a nurse, add to the distress. The Father portrays a fleeting but powerful glimpse of what living with dementia might feel like, while also counting the human cost of caring.

The Father currently being screened at Queen’s Film Theatre as well as Movie House Cinemas, Omniplex Cinemas, Strand Arts Centre and The Odeon.

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