Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman, Olivia Williams, Rufus Sewell, Mark Gatiss, Imogen Poots
Adapted from his own play with help from British screenwriter Christopher Hampton French director Zeller’s feature debut is a wholly original, moving and unnerving cinematic depiction of dementia.
It begins with Anne (Colman) going to see her eighty-year-old father Anthony (Hopkins) in his tasteful book-lined flat. Initially Anthony seem fairly stable, if doddery and spikey (his behaviour has just caused a caregiver to quit). Anna announces that she is moving to Paris with her new husband, meaning that Anthony will have to go into a care home, something he insists isn’t necessary.
After their exchange Anthony wanders into another room where he comes across Anne’s husband (Gatiss) reading the paper, who calmly informs the old man that they are all living here in the flat.
Later Anne returns but she is a completely different woman (Williams), who counters questions about her husband, saying she isn’t married. Then Anthony meets his new caregiver (Poots) who reminds him of Lucy, Anne’s absent sister, and encounters Anne’s ‘real’ husband (Sewell) who is more resolute about packing Anthony off to a home.
While pictures about mental deterioration tend to concentrate on the family and friend’s watching on powerless and frustrated, Zeller, drawing on thriller and horror elements, ingeniously puts viewers inside of the protagonist’s mind, his disorientation communicated through subtle perspective shifts and incremental adjustments to the décor. Consequently, this works beautifully as a piece of pure cinema, easily shaking off the mannered feel of an adapted play, although Zeller’s sleights of hand never trivialize Anthony’s predicament.
Hopkins is extraordinary, his character in turns defiant and mischievous but ultimately helpless as he struggles to navigate his every-changing world. Colman is reliably great, her doubling up with Olivia Williams as Anne maybe in part a sly joke about how the actors have been confused in the past.
The Father is released on 11th June
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