Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB
United Kingdom/France, 2020. Trademark Films, Cine@, AG Studios NYC, Embankment Films, F Comme Film, Film4, Viewfinder. Screenplay by Christopher Hampton, Florian Zeller, based on his play. Cinematography by Ben Smithard. Produced by Philippe Carcassonne, Simon Friend, Jean-Louis Livi, David Parfitt, Christophe Spadone. Music by Ludovico Einaudi. Production Design by Peter Francis. Costume Design by Anna Robbins. Film Editing by Yorgos Lamprinos.
Florian Zeller’s stage play of the same name dared to tell a story about illness and degeneration by placing the audience within the perspective of the patient and not of those tending him, an aging engineer who is suffering the confusion and degeneration of dementia. Putting his state of mind on film would presumably make Zeller’s job easier, playing with perspectives and realities is something the camera can do with great dynamism and directors have been tricking our eyes for decades, which means that his film adaptation (co-written by Christopher Hampton) cannot just rely on the mechanics to be memorable or weighty, the round-robin of characters and personalities that confuse the protagonist and his sense of time and place will come off as shallow tricks if they are not also grounded in enough dramatic weight to make the experience as emotionally devastating as it is logistically calculated. Much of the reason why this is pulled off here is the top-flight cast, beginning with a magnificent Anthony Hopkins bringing you deep into his vulnerability, living in his beautiful apartment and visited by his devoted daughter (Olivia Colman), who tells him that she is leaving to live in Paris and wants to make sure he has a good helper to take care of him. Next thing he knows, he turns around and his daughter is Olivia Williams and isn’t leaving Paris, she lives with him and her husband (Mark Gatiss) in the same apartment, but then in the next moment it’s Colman again, she’s not going anywhere and her partner is played by an impatient and abusive Rufus Sewell. Hopkins is struggling to keep his connection with his one remaining family member while trying to put to rest the pain of losing another, trying to fit the pieces together but unable to do so thanks to the fact that his facilities are getting weaker with time, not stronger. Watching his mind fold events together and confuse identities isn’t a frustrating experience for the viewer, it’s a very sympathetic trip down the labyrinth of the man’s experience that is so incredibly moving thanks to the magnificent performance (Hopkins’ best since The Remains of the Day). Zeller, directing for the first time, keeps his focus on the humanity of each situation and never tries to impress us with this daring shell game, there is no fun to be had in trying to assemble the reality of what you are watching, and he creates impressively strong dialogue despite the fact that the film never feels overwritten or dramatically self-important. The gorgeous depth of the cinematography and production design, which create a beautiful but intimidating labyrinth around the lead, add class and context to something that so deeply touching and important.
Academy Awards: Best Actor (Anthony Hopkins); Best Adapted Screenplay
Nominations: Best Picture; Best Supporting Actress (Olivia Colman); Best Film Editing; Best Production Design;
European Film Award Nominations: Best European Film; Best European Actor (Anthony Hopkins); Best European Director (Florian Zeller); Best European Screenwriter
Golden Globe Award Nominations: Best Picture-Drama; Best Actor-Drama (Hopkins); Best Supporting Actress (Colman); Best Screenplay
Screen Actors Guild Awards Nominations: Best Male Actor (Hopkins); Best Supporting Actress (Colman)