The film has been placed at number 11 on the Guardian’s top 50 films of 2021. It features Anthony Hopkin’s Oscar and BAFTA-winning Best Actor performance, in a film written by and directed by Florian Zeller, who also wrote the play on which it is based. The hero of The Father, also called Anthony, is an octogenarian,who is floundering desperately, unable to trust his own mind. And by adopting the perspective of a man with advanced dementia, Zeller has created a highly effective piece of Point Of View filmmaking, a kind of horror film with a huge heart.
Anthony is lost in a labyrinth. It’s a mental one: the various threads of his life keep slipping through his fingers. Where’s his watch? Is his daughter married? Is she moving to France? What’s happened to his other daughter? Is it morning or evening? Where’s that bloody watch? But as depicted here, it’s also a physical maze: as he negotiates the London flat in which he’s ensconced, the furniture keeps shifting, paintings vanishing from the walls, a piano morphing into a drinks cabinet. Zeller, adapting his own stage play, proves a natural at subverting filmic language to head-spinning effect. It’s unclear at all times exactly where Anthony is, or when he is.
And as portrayed by Hopkins in a powerhouse performance, one of the actor’s very best, he cycles through a vast range of emotion in 97 minutes, none of it feeling false. At one point the character is impishly charming, offering a whisky to his new carer and launching into a frenzied tap-dance. At another, his mood blackens, becoming horribly cruel. But mostly, he is lost, unmoored, searching desperately for a measure of control. But it’s also gripping and audacious, twisting the conventions of narrative storytelling to match the awful effects of the disease it’s portraying. It offers no easy answers — there aren’t any. But it does offer plenty of compassion, both for the titular character and for his daughter, occasionally lingering with her, as played with low-key power by Olivia Colman.
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