We all thought about who we want to be when we’re 70 or 80 years old. All we want is to look back at a fulfilling life while enjoying every wonderful day that’s to come. However, we can’t predict for 100% how we grow old. Many people stay in good health while others have to deal with a disease.
Sadly, Anthony belongs to that second category as he has dementia. The illness impacts his own life and the lives of the people around him. That’s being proven stunningly in “The Father”, the latest movie from co-writer/director Florian Zeller (“The Other Woman”, “Florida”), with an outstanding Anthony Hopkins as an impeccable lead.
The film is mainly told from Anthony’s (Anthony Hopkins) perspective. Anthony lives a quiet life in a beautiful flat in London and he’s being visited regularly by his daughter Anne (Olivia Colman).
She tells him that she’s moving to Paris with her husband Paul (Rufus Sewell) or that least that’s what he thinks. It soon becomes clear that Anthony’s life isn’t as he remembers it to be, that his mind is fading fast due to dementia, leading him to become disoriented, frustrated and angry.
Facts from his life and the lives of people close to him have become a blur. He’s not sure who his daughter is, as there’s that mysterious woman who looks like Anne (Olivia Williams) but who might not be her, and to whom she’s married, as multiple Paul’s (both Sewell and Mark Gatiss) seems to be living in that same flat.
A flat that might not be his after all. Yes, there are moments of clarity and happiness but also many frustrating and confusing times. But what exactly did happens in Anthony’s life?
That’s for you to find out in “The Father”. It’s Zeller’s first full-length feature, so taking on dementia as a topic was an incredibly bold decision. However, it was a choice that paid off because of a cleverly written story, an outstanding cast and inviting cinematography.
To create that confusing and disorientating feeling of dementia, the filmmaker uses different actors for the same role and the same actors for various roles. For example, you see Williams as Anne, but you also see her in a different role.
At the same time, you see Colman as Anne, so which Olivia is Anne after all: Williams or Colman? It’s the same with Gatiss. He might or might not be Anne’s husband (wait, a minute, then who’s Sewell portraying?), and he’s also seen in another role.
To heighten that bewildering vibe, many lines and dialogues are being repeated multiple times. We admit that it all might seem a bit baffling, but that’s precisely the feeling Zeller wanted to create.
What isn’t confusing, though, is that the cast of this movie is from a top-notch level. When watching Hopkins (“The Elephant Man”, “The Two Popes”), you realize that his Oscar win wasn’t a snub at all but incredibly well deserved. He brings such an emotional, moving and big performance while keeping it subtle and modest at the same time.
Most of his scenes are with Colman (“The Favourite”, “Murder on the Orient Express”), and during those moments, you don’t only see Hopkins greatness but also why Colman deserves all the praise she can get. She delivers such an exceptional performance that’s captivating, touching and multi-layered. Every time she mentions ‘Anthony’, it feels like she’s having a natural conversation with Anthony Hopkins instead of a scripted one with the fictional Anthony.
This real-life vibe comes through even more because of the subtle editing by Yorgos Lamprinos (“Escape from Raqqa”, “Custody”).
When looking at Colman, we also see why Zeller did cast Olivia Williams (“The Postman”, “Victoria & Abdul”) as the other potential Anne. Not only their features are very similar but also their performances are the same—sweet, poignant and on-point.
Imogen Poots (“Vivarium”, “The Art of Self-Defence”) only has a small role in this movie, but as Anthony’s potential caretaker Laura, she brings so much sympathy, sunshine and joy to the serious and poignant moments. Her introduction scene definitely puts a smile on your face and a tear in your eyes.
Last but certainly not least, there are also Gatiss and Sewell, who are taking on the same character (or was it a different character after all). Gatiss’ (“The Favourite”, “Christopher Robin”) performance doesn’t only contribute to the gripping level even more but also heightens that confusing feeling while Sewell’s (“Judy”, “Gods of Egypt”) acting brings more power and emotions to “The Father”.
Not only the cast but also the film crew make sure that the audience can soak in all those intense moments. Production designer Peter Francis (“Rocketman”, “The Children Act”) and cinematographer Ben Smithard (“Downton Abbey”, “The Man Who Invented Christmas”) create vivid and beautiful scenes and the score from Ludovico Einaudi (“Nomadland”, “The Upside”) makes this beautiful and touching film complete.
Whether you already experience the impact of dementia from close by or not, we all know its effect on people suffering from it and their environment. It’s that impact and effect shown in a beautiful, heartbreaking and superbly performed way, making from “The Father” a movie you have to watch!