GoCritic! Review: The Father
- A refreshing comedy-drama about the ridiculousness of running away from grief has won the Crystal Globe at Karlovy Vary
Filmmaking duo Kristina Grozeva and Peter Valchanov, known for exploring absurd behaviours and situations in post-communist Bulgaria in successful films like The Lesson [+see also:
interview: Kristina Grozeva, Petar Val…
interview: Margita Gosheva
film profile] (2014) and Glory [+see also:
interview: Petar Valchanov
interview: Petar Valchanov, Kristina G…
film profile] (2016), now offer a hilarious story about death and telephones in The Father [+see also:
interview: GoCritic! Interview: Kristi…
interview: Kristina Grozeva, Petar Val…
film profile], which has world-premiered and picked up the Crystal Globe for best film at Karlovy Vary. The authenticity of the Eastern European rural surroundings, odd characters and the logically illogical development of the story should secure this film a positive outcome at festivals in Europe as well as box office success at home.
Vassil (Ivan Savov) is convinced that his wife Valentina (Maria Bakalova), who recently passed away, is still spiritually orbiting around and even trying to communicate something important to him. Their mid-40s son, Pavel (Ivan Barnev) is stressed out about what he sees as foolishness of his father’s behavior and beliefs. Pavel, however, could hardly be defined as the voice of reason in this story, as we witness him obsessively lying on the phone to his wife Kalina (Margita Goševa) about his mother’s death. After their elderly neighbour Ljubka (Tanya Shahova) claims that the deceased Valentina keeps calling her on the phone, Vassil’s obsession deepens. This fuels his decision to get in touch with his late wife via Doctor Ruvi (Hristofor Nedkov), a new-age psychic who charges good money for advising people to clear their energy by sleeping on meteorites. A series of comic situations derives from the two men’s inability to face up to their complicated feelings of grief and remorse.
Getting and keeping “in touch” are important themes in this picture as they pose the largest difficulties for the two main characters. Ironically, father and son’s efforts to stay connected with their partners (one by lying and the other by transitioning to a supernatural realm) only mirror their deep powerlessness to connect with the reality of their situation, and the unpleasant feelings which are caused.
Savov gives a spot-on performance as a stubborn and eccentric old man, with most of the comedy in the film coming from his doing all sorts of unlikely things with a deadly serious face. Barnev presents us with a nuanced portrayal of Pavel, who displays passive-aggressive behaviours and whose efforts to stay “normal” turn out to be futile. The writer-directors successfully showcase their ability to complement an array of typical Balkan characters and settings with enough idiosyncrasies to avoid falling into easy stereotypes. Moderation and subtleties are in fact the key to this film’s flawless flow, and are also evident in its other facets.
The script very intelligently utilises technology as a necessary instrument in telling its story, but without allowing this to steal the show from more important questions. Even though we witness a lot of ridiculous activity, none of this crosses the line of good taste; thanks to that, this film hits all the right marks when it comes to humour. The meticulous hand-held camerawork of Krum Rodriguez keeps the story in the domain of realism, but various stylistic choices lean more towards the comedy genre. The quality of this film comes from its clever exploration of the farcical aspects of grief, while also acknowledging the importance of sadness. The Father’s distinctive brand of breezy catharsis should leave audiences feeling not only moved but also refreshed.
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