Setting out to make a largely stage-bound movie focussing on a dementia sufferer, albeit with two of the best actors in the world, is a brave move indeed.
However director Florian Zeller has based this movie on his own French play “Le Père”, creating a difficult but ultimately rewarding watch. While helping to understand the effects of dementia, the film could equally prove distressing for anyone caring for someone experiencing this illness.
“Anthony” (Anthony Hopkins) lives in a well-furnished, comfortable apartment which he owns. Whilst relatively active, he requires assistance despite his denials, especially locating his ever elusive watch. Having seen off his latest carer, his daughter “Anne” (Olivia Colman) searches for a suitable replacement and helps around the apartment until a more resilient candidate can be found.
Anthony is charming one moment, confused another and delivering vicious put downs the next. He knows how to hurt and is oblivious to the pain and distress he causes. As one character opines, “are you doing this deliberately?”
The simple answer would be yes and no. Lashing out when the world you knew no longer works or makes sense, when no longer fully compos mentis is understandable.
The director deliberately blurs time-lines, sequences and configuration of sets, to confuse the audience, providing a small glimpse of how this condition might feel like to experience.
Is this my apartment or am I living in yours, and who is this person who just arrived, doesn’t he look different to earlier and where is my other daughter?
Anthony also contends with Anne potentially leaving for France to join her new beau, thereby deserting him to be left on his own, or is she?
From an audience point of view, it can be confusing which is the directors intention. If you were frustrated and frightened, would you not lash out at the people closest to you? Possibly accusing them of stealing your watch, when you actually just left it on the bedside cabinet.
Deploying Hopkins and Colman together, is a double edged sword. Great acting brings total believability, which makes this a tough, frustrating and occasionally upsetting watch. The ending scenes are especially challenging, knowing somewhere along the line, if we live long enough, we could reach this point in our lives.
As the saying goes, you are born alone and die alone, arguably not a great tag-line for any story.
As you would expect, Hopkins is again in Oscar winning form albeit playing a heightened and unwell version of himself. Colman continues to excel, adding further to her range, after an impressive stint portraying the current Queen in “The Crown”.
Imogen Poots as “Laura” adds a welcome breath of fresh air and innocence to the story, provoking an almost schizophrenic change in Anthony’s demeanour. Charming one moment and verbally ruthless the next, making it all the more devastating to watch Colman’s reactions.
A film catering to a niche market but undoubtedly well acted by the leads, with Hopkins in Oscar winning form, ably supported by previous Oscar winner Colman.
Recommended with some caution, depending on the viewers personal circumstances and responsibilities.