The Father

The Father ★★★★

By virtue of the way the film operates, though, it is a showcase for Anthony Hopkins. Save for one very brief scene, the film is told completely from his perspective. Even if Anthony knows exactly who he is, we do not know exactly who is, and the film plays around with the gradual giving of information to contextualise who this person is. This leaves every other actor playing some version of themselves (or other selves) filtered through Anthony. Olivia Colman and Olivia Williams share the role of Anne. But Olivia Williams also shares the role of a carer for Anthony with Imogen Poots, who may also be playing another daughter of Anthony. Anne’s husband is either Rufus Sewell or Mark Gatiss, and the film earns a lot of mileage from watching these varying actors work out which iteration of which persons they are in Anthony’s head. They are all excellent, and Colman – who is usually playing Anne – is incredibly good at playing Anne’s care but exhaustion especially in moments of silence.

I find myself returning to Olivia Williams, though. She’s technically giving the briefest roles of the supporting cast, and speaking about why she’s good without spoiling who she is in the film is difficult but it’s a welcome reminder of what a shrewd performer she is. There’s a slightest pause in a reaction she gives to Anthony at the very end of the film that’s one of its most heartrending moments. It’s part of the film’s larger awareness of interpersonal relationships and the effect that dementia has on other people, while keeping the film fiercely tied to Anthony. It makes “The Father” more distinctive than its logline might imply. It’s incredibly thoughtful about these people, who they are and who they could be but particularly about how Anthony feels about them – and in some cases how they feel about him.

And, “The Father” is very thoughtful and good. It is also, for the most part, not very pleasant and it cleverly ends without anything resembling catharsis. In fact, the movie seems intent on working itself out in your head after you’ve already seen it so that I suspect that watching it more than once might present a more coherent idea of the what or the how. But, watching it again to figure it out feels antithetical to the immediate value of “The Father” and its engagement with dementia. Even as Zeller sets up the film as a kind of thriller, purely on the account that the protracted dramatic irony facilitates key bits of information separating us from Anthony, figuring out what’s going on will not necessarily bring any gratification or joy. I suspect watching it again may only be more emotionally exhausting. It’s a modest intention within the realm of the more ambitious designs of films this past year, but the exact focus of the domestic strife at the root of “The Father” is enough to break your heart. When the camera leaves Anthony for the very last shot, we are moved for him but also relieved to be released from his tragedy.

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