The Father

Year: 2020
Production Co: Les Films du Cru
Director: Florian Zeller
Writer: Christopher Hampton/Florian Zeller
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman, Olivia Williams, Rufus Sewell, Imogen Poots

This film quite rightly won plaudits for putting you as an audience member right inside the experience of having dementia through simple but elegant filmmaking, by swapping characters, times, conversations and occurrences throughout the proceedings so you – along with the main character – are never sure what's real, feeling his confusion and sometimes anger along with him.

But even while everyone else was fawning over it and giving Hopkins the Best Actor Oscar during the pandemic Academy Awards, the same device had already been used very effectively in a barely-seen Australian comedy drama from a few years before - more below.

Anthony (Anthony Hopkins) lives alone in the London flat he's occupied for years and has a quiet but fulfilling life listening to classical music on the radio, sitting and reading. He probably knows he's getting to the age where he needs help because his daughter Anne (Olivia Colman) comes to visit every afternoon to help him with groceries and sometimes cook his dinner.

But life is evolving and Anne tells him she's met a man who works in France and she's moving there with him. Even though she'll see him some weekends she won't be able to come every day any more.

Anthony is upset and a little scared at the prospect, but she assures him he'll be taken care of because they'll be employing a carer. He just needs to reign in his temper and not have her refuse to come back like the last one did.

But pretty quickly things starts to go awry. He meets the new carer (Imogen Poots), and she reminds him a bit too much of his other daughter, the girl about whom he can't quite remember important stuff like where she is and why she doesn't visit.

Then a man he's never seen enters the flat and tells Anthony he's Anne's husband, it's actually their place and Anthony lives with them because he can't take care of himself.

Then another woman he doesn't recognise (Olivia Williams) comes in with a bag of groceries saying she's Anne, and that of course she's not moving to France, he must have imagined it.

The confusion between faces, rooms and memories of conversations accelerates, and it reaches a heartbreaking crescendo when Anthony, teetering between terror and rage after enduring a barrage of abusive slapping by Anne's husband, bursts out of his flat to find himself in a hospital corridor, sees the daughter he keeps wondering about in the most terrible of circumstances, then wakes up in an old age home, the apparent truth about where he is finally dawning on him.

It ends up with him lying in the nurse's arms, crying for his mother, seemingly believing he's a lost little boy, his torment complete.

Shifting him between locations and people with no idea how he got there effortlessly gives you empathy for what Anthony's going through, but before watching this I saw Aussie dramedy June Again and was impressed by the way it did the same thing to represent dementia sufferer June's (Noni Hazelhurst) confusion as he perceptions crumble.

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