This film is a mess. The way it’s edited means it lacks any sense of cohesive structure. It’s incredibly difficult to figure out what the hell is going on and you sit there for most of the film being confused and trying to make sense of it all.
And I love it. That’s the best way to tell this story, it’s certainly the most effective. It’s all well and good telling people about the horrifying effects of suffering with dementia, but this is the best way to actually SHOW it, to put you in the shoes of someone with it. The confusion, the mixing up of times and characters (there are moments where the characters are suddenly played by different actors). I’m a big fan of when narrative structure suits the film. If this was a standard A-B film it probably still would have been good, but that’s all it would have been, good. It wouldn’t have been as great as it is. It wouldn’t have been as impactful as it is. It wouldn’t have caused almost everybody in the cinema to break into tears at the end.
Jesus, the end. Spoilers here I guess, but this isn’t really a film you watch for the narrative, you watch it for the experience (and it’s certainly an experience). You may survive the rest of the film untouched (you monster) but I doubt you’ll make it through the ending feeling nothing. For the rest of the film you’re confused, bewildered, and trying to ground yourself (damn I love how it puts you in his shoes), but for this moment? You know what’s going on, and it devastates you. It’s just Anthony Hopkins saying he feels his mind going (or as it’s brilliantly put: he’s losing his leaves), and he cries and begs for his mommy. The helplessness and weakness he shows is heartbreaking. Especially since Hopkins normally plays characters who are not just in control, but usually the smartest person in the room. So to see him do that really hits home how bad it can get.
Olivia Colman also knocks it out the park, as she usually does. When exactly did she become that damn good? It’s still weird to see her as this acting behemoth capable of making you feel every emotion, when I still can’t unsee her characters from Mitchell And Webb. I never would have guessed when she was doing comedy like that that she’d turn into what she has, and I’ve got to be honest, I’m still not entirely sure when it happened, was it Broadchurch?
The downside of this film? The directing could be a bit stronger at times. The director (Florian Zeller) has a history in theatre, and that shows in his directing choices. There are a lot of static shots, there is not a lot here in terms of shot composition that you couldn’t do on a stage. Compare this to something like Mouthpiece (yes, I’m mentioning that film again, because I know you haven’t seen it and you really should), also based on a play, but did things in the film that would not be possible on stage, and was all the better for it. He did some things which were great, but I feel a lot of that (changing the set subtly between scenes) is taken from the play. Controversial opinion: maybe should have had someone on set who’s experienced in horror movies. Not to add lots of jump scares and threatening chords, but just to amp up the fear factor the character is feeling. If you’ve got someone who is experienced in making characters seem more helpless in certain situations, it might have improved certain scenes and helped them achieve more.
That’s a very small niggle though, you still need to watch this film. Either see it at the cinema, or wait until it’s shown on Channel 4 at Christmas. A truly powerful piece of cinema that deserves watching.
Although it does seem weirdly French for some reason. Just tonally.