Nothing Is As It Seems
French playwright Florian Zeller’s directorial debut, The Father, is an elegant and emotionally devastating chamber film which is essential viewing. Based on the play of the same name, The Father places at the center of its plot a man determined to refuse all assistance from his daughter as he ages. Committed to making sense of his changing circumstances, he begins to doubt his loved ones, his mind and the fabric of his reality.
The Father is not the first film to deal with Alzheimer’s, but it stands out in the way it tells the story through the eyes of those who are victims, showing what they see, feel and experience. Two performers who are masters of controlled emotions carry the weight of a narrative, or perhaps a non-narrative. It is an experiment that started in the theater and is now in the cinema, but above all it becomes a narrative experience in which place, time and space are manipulated.
Zeller is not attempting a Fight Club effect: there is no attempt to “cheat” the viewer through the distortion of reality, but he aims to make us participate in this form of truth that exists, that happens. The audience, in fact, is immediately aware of the problem that afflicts the characters. And it is important that we know it. A game that makes you wonder who is really the principal focus: the actors or the spectators?
Zeller is not interested in analyzing the disease, but brings to the film the representation of a perpetual state of confusion that makes everyone share in the inherent cruelty of a disease that is so real. It is marked by an inner decline that stagnates in the loss of identity that, unfolding with awareness, creates a response of non-acceptance, and you can sense this not only in the reactions, but also in the faces of the actors.
Highlighting this drama is the performance of Anthony Hopkins. Every minuscule expression of his is a surgically perfect incision into the soul of the viewer. His interpretation is a perfect mixture of submissive reaction and unrestrained heartbreaking screams, but far from the specter of parody or a case of overacting. Olivia Colman’s performance as Anthony’s daughter Anne is splendid.
The film was honored at the 2021 Academy Awards with two Oscars: Best Actor in a Leading Role to Anthony Hopkins and Best Non-Original Screenplay to Zeller and co-writer Christopher Hampton.