The Father What is the appeal of dementia movies?

The Father  What is the appeal of dementia movies?

The Father, review: Anthony Hopkins is mesmerising in this … Fri, 11 Jun 2021 00:00:00 +0100-'The Father', which is opening in UK cinemas this week, is one of a number of films on the seemingly unpromising subject of ageing and dementia. They might …


The Father: What is the appeal of dementia movies?

June 11, 2021

Speaking earlier this spring, British producer David Parfitt reflected on the challenges of financing Florian Zeller’s The Father. The film may now have gone on to win Oscars, but when potential backers were first approached, most were immensely sceptical. This was a story about a querulous old man with dementia who has a fraught relationship with his relatives and carers. There was considerable doubt that anybody would actually want to go and see it.

“If you go out pitching a film about dementia, it doesn’t go down that well. It’s tough to get these things going,” Parfitt acknowledged. “Even with Tony Hopkins and Olivia Colman attached, it was still tough.” In order to secure a green light, salaries had to be deferred and corners cut.

The Father premiered at Sundance in January 2020. Then came the Covid crisis and an agonisingly long wait. Eighteen months later, it is finally arriving in British cinemas this week. Critics have rhapsodised about Anthony Hopkins’s barnstorming, Academy Award-winning performance, likening it to his turns as Shakespeare’s King Lear on stage and on screen. The British have also basked in the afterglow of its Oscars success. Although writer-director Zeller is French, and The Father originated as a French play, Christopher Hampton wrote the screenplay, the main actors were English or Welsh, and the project is now being hailed as a triumph for UK cinema.

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The Father: What is the appeal of dementia movies? Fri, 11 Jun 2021 00:00:00 +0100-This Oscar-winning drama is the first film about dementia to make the viewer an active participant in the sufferer's deterioration.


Anthony Hopkins is mesmerising in The Father, a disorienting and unflinching dementia drama

June 10, 2021

The Father feels more like a horror film than a drama. Eighty-year-old Anthony (Anthony Hopkins, who won the Academy Award for Best Actor for this role) lives in a tasteful London flat, enjoys listening to opera and seems rational, if a little cantankerous.

His daughter, Anne (Olivia Colman), drops by to tell him that she is moving to France with a man, and perhaps it might be time to… “Time to what?” Anthony growls. “Come on, Anne. Finish that sentence.”

Anne is clearly suggesting that Anthony move into a nursing home, though she doesn’t say it. A carer, whom Anthony has accused of stealing his watch, has just quit.

Suddenly the edifice crumbles; what follows is a sort of Groundhog Day dismantling of Anthony’s reality. He finds a strange man (Mark Gatiss) in his living room, claiming to be Anne’s husband. Another woman who looks like Anne but isn’t (Olivia Williams) says she is going to make chicken for dinner. Then says there isn’t any chicken. Or any man. She was divorced five years ago. She was never moving to Paris.

Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman in ‘The Father’ (Photo: AP/Sony Pictures Classics/Sean Gleason)

These touchpoints – the chicken, the watch, Paris – are swapped over and over again, as are the actors (Rufus Sewell also appears as Anne’s husband – or is he?), so that we are plunged into Anthony’s own disorienting experience. What and whom can he trust?

The distinctive, blue-walled apartment is subtly altered, too, the odd shopping bag modified, paintings changed. One scene begins and ends with Anthony walking in on Anne and her husband having the same hushed conversation about nursing homes. It is a triumph of editing and production design, and of direction too.

This is director Florian Zeller’s film debut, adapted from his award-winning play Le Père, and co-written with Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons, Atonement). It retains a distinctly stagey, claustrophobic feel, set almost entirely in the apartment, showing us that when memory fails, space is distorted along with time.

It is the first film about dementia to make the viewer an active participant in the sufferer’s deterioration, since everything feels as real to us as it does to Anthony. When the rug is pulled from under his feet, so is it from under ours, too.

Colman is excellent, eliciting compassion as she tries desperately to care for a father who repeatedly barks that he would rather have his other (missing) daughter around. But it is Hopkins’ show. Even by his high standards, it is stunning work. He moves in the blink of an eye from enraged to befuddled, callous to pitiable, not just with his face, but with his whole body.

By the end he is scrunched up, being cradled like a baby. It is a very physical performance: unflinching, dazzling and one so mesmerisingly upsetting that I never want to watch it again.

In cinemas now

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– June 11, 2021
The Father What is the appeal of dementia movies?

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