It could be a good exercise: take an imaginary scale, put on one side the fear of death, and on the other side the fear of getting lost in the abysses of the mind, in oblivion, in senile dementia. See what weighs more. What weighs more to each one. Yes: it would be a good exercise. Disturbing and revealing. See if the possibility – religious beliefs aside – of the nonexistence and nothingness that comes after the end is more painful, or if that is preferable to the gradual sinking into the shadows of memory, in the spiral of oblivion that runs over everything and that, In its own way, it also puts you before nothing, but worse: nothing in life.
Therefore, it is highly likely that there is consensus: Alzheimer’s is terrible. The latent possibility of suffering from it is appalling. Nobody wants to look over that cliff, but the truth is that it is much more present than you think; almost 50 million people suffer from it worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. They are truculent numbers.
Like all human pain, the disease –and its tail flicks and peripheral ailments– has been reflected in the cinema. There is, for example, the terrifying account of Michael Haneke in Love, which does not speak specifically of Alzheimer’s, but which hurts in a similar way. Also the moving Chilean documentary The mole agent, in which there are flashes of disease in the middle of a story that becomes increasingly Sui generis. It is also in the River Plate The son of the bride and The delay. In the premature blow suffered by Julianne Moore’s character in Always alice. And now, clearer or more diffuse, in The father, the directorial debut of Frenchman Florian Zeller.
Talk about The father In 2021 it is talking about the Oscars, and although that can be synonymous with torpor, boredom and irrelevance, an exception can be made for Zeller’s film: The father It was the wayward film, the one that came to the awards in silence and without fuss, the one that few had seen, the one that ended up taking two awards –Best adapted screenplay for Zeller, Best actor for Anthony Hopkins– and the one that later spread from mouth to mouth. Small, contained, surprising, if you could, you had to see it. And now it can finally be seen.
The father It has just arrived in national cinemas and, although it cannot be ignored that its journey through the turbulent waters of piracy has a journey of several months, it is good news that this first film touches the giant screens. Although its origin story flirts with tables –it is a film adaptation of a theatrical success that Zeller himself edited and directed for years, and which even had a local version in El Galpón starring Julio Calcagno–, there is a lot of cinema in her, so much so that Zeller’s name, from now on, is one of those that should be noted.
The twilight of a mind
Anthony –Hopkins– is an octogenarian from London who is starting to forget things. Old age, he excuses himself. Her daughter Anne – always extraordinary Olivia Colman – knows that things are not going that way, and that is why she tries to attach a companion to her who will watch over her health and, in some sense, occupy the space that she cannot occupy because she also has a life to attend to. Anthony rages, grieves, squirms, and amuses himself. He clings to his condition and tries to decode his situation. Things are getting mixed up for him. The faces are exchanged. Conversations are interrupted, repeated, and interrupted again. And there reality is turned upside down. The misunderstanding happens to be shared between the protagonist and the spectator. What’s going on in there? In what exact place are we standing?
It seems logical that The father he has won a few awards for his script: his proposal is rooted in a scaffolding that is being cemented minute by minute, that uses even elements of the police, and that with each expression of bewilderment of Anthony finds new specifications and mysteries. Even despite the theatricality of many of the characters’ interventions, the way in which Zeller sets the camera to build his story, and how he uses the spaces to intensify the atmosphere, it is purely cinematic. The apartment itself begins, in a moment, to be a box of stories, a key to the unknowns of the character. A door, a window, a room: everything can be molded in this mental architecture displayed on stage.
Hopkins is accompanied by the great actress Olivia Colman, as her daughter Anne
But the main device for the success of the film, in addition to its structural and aesthetic successes, is in Hopkins. To begin with, you have to admire the bravery of this acting gentleman who, at 83, decides to explore and almost submit to the sufferings of an extremely tormented veteran who could well be himself. Him, in that hellish labyrinth of the mind. Courage is needed, of course, because the character is a mirror, and Hopkins is encouraged to face him. In fact, the decision to name the character after Anthony occurred to Zeller as a way to open a door to the unknown – in the original play the man is called André – and the actor, despite some primary insecurities, agreed.
“He was a little scared,” the editor told The Guardian. He asked me, ‘Are you sure?’ I told him it mattered. It was going to function as a door that we could open at any time during filming for him to connect with his own feelings. I wanted him not to have to act, to be overwhelmed by his emotions, fears, and his own mortality. Sometimes it was very painful for him. “
Hopkins shines and justifies all the accolades and awards he received. His is a complex, sublime character, at times unbearable, violent, and at other times extremely vulnerable, lovable, and funny. It is consecrating for someone who has already consecrated himself several times, and the commotion that runs through the entire footage reaches a climax that shatters any indifference on the part of the viewer. Anthony Hopkins is huge, and with The father prolongs his legend.
Hopkins’ character is also named Anthony, in a chilling mirror game
We will have to follow, from now on, the paths of Florian Zeller. De Pique showed himself as an extremely interesting filmmaker, concerned about the lateral paths of subjects that, still, seem to have little space in the general consideration; in the case of The father, old age, dementia and his tail slaps at point-blank range. The following will be an exercise similar to the previous one: it will adapt to the cinema The son, another theatrical work of his authorship that is part of the same trilogy as the story starring Hopkins – the third is, of course, Mother-. With the still fresh precedent of this clever, painful, and sometimes enigmatic first film, this project at least deserves the attention and expectation that it initially generates.
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The father: the abyss of old age according to Sir Anthony Hopkins