This Oscar-winning portrait of dementia deserves its lavish accolades: BRIAN VINER reviews The Father
The Father (12A)
Verdict: Deserves the acclaim
Verdict: Slick but violent
Unless you’ve broken travel restrictions and have been staying on a distant planet these past two months or so, you’ll know by now that The Father is about dementia.
Specifically, it’s about dementia as interpreted by the Oscar-winning Sir Anthony Hopkins, who also has a BAFTA to show for his endeavours.
But the driving force behind this film is French playwright Florian Zeller, who adapted and directed his own 2012 stage hit for the big screen. He, too, won an Academy Award and a Bafta, shared with his accomplished co-writer Sir Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons, Atonement). The Father is not short of lavish accolades.
The question now is whether audiences will adore it as much as critics and judges. To do so, they will need to see it, and I’m not entirely sure that, with cinemas now blessedly open again, such a heartrendingly moving but fundamentally gloomy film will be a wildly popular choice.
You’ll know by now that The Father is about dementia. Specifically, it’s about dementia as interpreted by the Oscar-winning Sir Anthony Hopkins, who also has a BAFTA to show for his endeavours
That it is packed with thunderous resonance for so many people might count against it at the box office.
Cinematic escapism, for anyone who has watched the mental deterioration of an ageing relative or friend, it is emphatically not.
That said, I urge you to see it. There have been numerous films over the past decade or so in which dementia has played a central role.
But even the best of them, such as Alexander Payne’s 2013 comedy Nebraska (or on television, the lacerating Elizabeth Is Missing, with Glenda Jackson), have shone a light on the condition from the outside looking in.
The captivating cleverness of Zeller’s film, though it only gradually dawns, is that it projects from the inside looking out.
We first meet Anthony (Hopkins) in a handsome flat in London’s Maida Vale. His gentle middle-aged daughter, Anne (Olivia Colman), breaks it to him that she has fallen in love and is moving to Paris, so he will need a new live-in carer. The last two, it seems, have quit.
Anthony, though sweet and mellow one moment, can be cruel and cantankerous the next. Looking after him is clearly a challenge. Every time he mislays his watch, he is certain someone has stolen it.
But there is still evidence of his intelligence and charisma. He is soothed, too, by classical music. Then he encounters a man in his flat, Paul (Mark Gatiss), who claims to be Anne’s husband.
Anthony breaks it to him that she has met someone else and is relocating to Paris. ‘Oops-a-daisy,’ he adds, childishly amused by his own mischief-making.
Then it seems that it’s not his flat at all, but belongs to Anne and Paul. Did she really mention Paris? As Zeller continues to undermine our certainties, playing even with the casting as Olivia Williams and Rufus Sewell are introduced as the daughter and son-in-law, it becomes clear what he is doing.
We’re experiencing Anthony’s confusion ourselves. This device gathers pace and intensity, but never in a mannered or laboured way. It’s very adroitly handled.
Throughout it all, it is impossible to take your eyes off Hopkins, even with such splendid performers around him. There’s an almost upbeat scene when Laura (Imogen Poots) arrives to be interviewed for the carer’s job, and Anthony, dazzled by her youth and prettiness, becomes flirtatious. ‘Ding dong,’ he says, coming over all Leslie Phillips.
He declares that Laura reminds him of his other daughter, Lucy, the one he never sees yet who remains his favourite. Then, having beguiled Laura with charm, he crushes her with cruelty.
Nobody is a slick comedy-action-thriller about a man with a very different set of problems. Bob Odenkirk plays Hutch, a seemingly ordinary suburban family guy with a boring job and a stable yet loveless marriage
It’s a mesmerisingly powerful performance, the throbbing heart (and ailing mind) of a beautifully-observed film.
The Father might not entirely resonate with everyone who has seen the pitilessness of dementia. This family, for example, is ineffably middle-class and affluent, with no suggestion that anyone needs to worry about the financial implications of Anthony’s increasing needs. Also, the Poots character, for someone meant to have a record of caring for old people, seems strangely clueless.
But these are minor gripes. Whether I’ve convinced you to go or not, The Father is well worth all the acclaim that has been heaped upon it.
Nobody is a slick comedy-action-thriller about a man with a very different set of problems. Bob Odenkirk plays Hutch, a seemingly ordinary suburban family guy with a boring job and a stable yet loveless marriage.
But by the time he beats up a bunch of thugs terrorising a bus, we know that there is more to Hutch than meets the eye, namely a set of combat skills that indicate a shadowy past.
Then it transpires — of course it does — that one of the thugs he’s hospitalised is the young brother of a fearsome Russian gangster. So Hutch now has quite a lot more on his plate.
Odenkirk, so wonderful as a seedy lawyer in the TV drama Breaking Bad and its spin-off Better Call Saul, proves unexpectedly convincing as an action hero. And it’s always a pleasure to see Christopher Lloyd, who pops up as his old dad.
But I’m a little uneasy about extreme violence being used to service an essentially comedic premise, and there’s plenty here, predictably enough, given that the writer is Derek Kolstad, creator of the John Wick franchise, which has a body count in the thousands.
Both films are in cinemas now.
Witty debut is a bittersweet treat
Shiva Baby (15)
Verdict: Engaging and witty
Ellie & Abbie (15)
Verdict: Hackneyed but enjoyable
A shiva is a kind of Jewish version of a wake, a post-funeral opportunity for relatives and friends to say prayers in memory of the departed, comfort the immediate family and then eat.
That is the backdrop to Shiva Baby, an engaging bittersweet comedy and a tremendously assured debut by writer-director Emma Seligman, clearly a talent to watch.
Her film unfolds in real time, almost entirely at an American shiva, to which Danielle (Rachel Sennott), an aimless, bisexual young woman in her 20s, has been dragged by her warm but overbearing parents (Polly Draper and Fred Melamed). She’s not entirely sure who has died.
As the various rituals proceed, Danielle must deal with the presence not just of her more successful ex-girlfriend, but also the older man with whom she is having an affair — who turns out to be not only married but also a new father.
A shiva is a kind of Jewish version of a wake, a post-funeral opportunity for relatives and friends to say prayers in memory of the departed, comfort the immediate family and then eat. That is the backdrop to Shiva Baby, an engaging bittersweet comedy and a tremendously assured debut by writer-director Emma Seligman, clearly a talent to watch
With a discordant score more evocative of a horror film conveying Danielle’s claustrophobic discomfort, that’s pretty much all there is to it, give or take all the older women who keep quizzing her on her prospects and pestering her to eat something. ‘You look like Gwyneth Paltrow on food stamps,’ says her own mother.
But it is joyously well-written, acutely observed and impeccably acted. A real treat
n Some of the same themes emerge in Ellie & Abbie (& Ellie’s Dead Aunt), a jaunty Australian rom-com which also, as a wine writer might say, contains bittersweet backnotes.Just like Shiva Baby, this film is the debut feature of a female writer-director, Monica Zanetti, who keeps it bowling along very enjoyably, despite the hackneyed device of a ghost that only the main character can see.
Ellie (Sophie Hawkshaw) is a 17-year-old Sydney high-school pupil intent on asking another girl to the impending ‘formal’. The object of her ardour is Abbie (Zoe Terakes), but Ellie, having come out only to her mother (Marta Dusseldorp), doesn’t quite have the courage of her convictions. At least not until her long-dead aunt Tara (Julia Billington), who turns out to have been a gay-rights activist back in the 1980s, looms up to advise her how to proceed.
Zanetti makes all this fun, and there are a few laugh-out-loud moments, but also some serious points about sexuality and prejudice that manage not to jar the comedy too much.
Shiva Baby is on streaming platform Mubi.
Ellie & Abbie (& Ellie’s Dead Aunt) is in cinemas.
We are so conditioned to seeing animal documentaries in vibrant colour, more often than not with commentary by Sir David Attenborough, that it’s a little disconcerting to sit down to Gunda, filmed in stark black and white and with no sound other than the noise of pigs (the name of one gives the film its title), cows and chickens.
Disconcerting, but also strangely comforting — and actually downright moving in its charm and simplicity.
The director is Russian documentary-maker Viktor Kossakovsky, who had the inspired idea of just pointing his camera at these farm animals as they go about their daily business.
His film, executive-produced by Joaquin Phoenix, is gorgeously shot and lit, but its chief triumph lies in the way it imbues the animals with dignity. I’m not a vegetarian, but if ever a film encouraged me to become one, it wouldn’t be a documentary about bad farming or slaughtering practices, it would be the bewitching Gunda.
We are so conditioned to seeing animal documentaries in vibrant colour, more often than not with commentary by Sir David Attenborough, that it’s a little disconcerting to sit down to Gunda, filmed in stark black and white and with no sound other than the noise of pigs (the name of one gives the film its title), cows and chickens
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