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  • Writer's picturePerrin Faerch

Review: The Father (2021)

Few films break me these days quite like The Father did. It devastates and frightens in equal measure, offering an entirely new and unique perspective of memory loss and dementia portrayed on screen. It’s simply an astonishing piece of work that floored me in ways I never expected.

The Father follows Anthony (Sir Anthony Hopkins), an aging man living in London as his mind begins to give way to dementia and memory loss. His daughter Anne (Olivia Coleman) checks on with him as he continues to lose his mind as he refuses any kind of assistance. Adapted from his own play, notable French playwright Florian Zeller directs his film debut with apparent ease, knowing the ins and outs of his characters, as well as every little detail scattered about the apartment as Anthony’s mind slips down a slippery slope that is doomed from the very beginning.

We follow the film mostly from Anthony’s perspective. It’s an interesting choice already, as we have often seen films like this told from a straightforward linear perspective – a straight line viewed from the outside as we see a beloved character succumb to their unfortunate circumstances. With The Father, Zeller’s bold and perfectly appropriate choice of viewing each passing moment through his eyes gives us an entirely original perspective of dementia I haven’t seen before. The maze-like structure of the edit is scattered about, connecting passing moments to entirely different points in the film. The non-linear approach is the only possible way of delivering this experience of having dementia, turning what appears to be an inevitable tear-jerking drama into a frightening nightmare we can’t seem to make sense of. In a lot of ways, the structure and ill-fated nature of the film is very reminiscent of Charlie Kaufman’s work, throwing us off the path as to where we expect the film to go. It’s magnificently written, as we are never able to pinpoint what will happen next and like Anthony, can’t quite make sense of what is happening around us.

The editing is vital in the manner with which The Father is told and constructed. Scenes begin and end only to form a loop, completely swerving our perspective as to where things end and where they begin, it’s as disorientating for us as it is for Anthony. This complex non-linear structure is adapted from an already complex script to perfection, making it a clear front-runner (for me at least), to take home the editing Oscar at this year’s ceremony.

The attention to detail in production design is also worthy of high praise. Each passing moment and revisited scene is reconstructed ever so slightly. Subtly playing with our memory without us even realizing it. Actors swap between characters, making these changes apparent, but the subtlety in changing the background scenery is another aspect you will keep your eyes peeled for when you are bound to return for another viewing. You don't realize it until you go back to see it again, effectively disorienting us in another insightful and highly effective manner.

Right off the bat, Sir Anthony Hopkins is unbelievable. Truly unbelievable. It’s a role only he could have delivered with such ease that is heartbreaking in its level of believability. It feels all too real as each character changes in appearance from moment to moment, giving him a sense of déjà vu as much as it does for us. He lives in these moments, a never-ending nightmare we can only pray for it to be over. It’s his finest performance since The Silence of the Lambs, and dare I say, might just be his greatest accomplishment to date. The supporting cast is also outstanding, with Coleman’s heartbreak growing with each interaction as she struggles to come to terms with the fact that he is too far gone and that she cannot take care of him anymore.

As doom and gloom as it all sounds, there are moments of genuine warmth scattered about, as we get some sort of insight into his former life and the relationship he has with his daughter. Unfortunately, these moments have to end prematurely with moments of heart-rending clarity in the cold hard truth of the situation: that he is not the person he is anymore and that it’ll never be the same again. It’s a conclusion that is completely necessary for understanding the devastating effects and reality of losing a loved one and, God forbid, yourself to dementia.

The Father is a genuine masterpiece, a high point in storytelling anchored by stunning direction and breathtaking performances that never steers off course as to what the film is trying to achieve and say. Beautiful, touching, terrifying and completely devastating, The Father is unlike anything you will see this year.

Where you can watch it: The Father is currently on circuit in South Africa and worldwide.

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