“The Father”, the surprise guest of the Oscars

The Oscars invariably carries its share of great stories and unexpected successes that fuel the chronicles on this side of the Atlantic. Especially when, like this year, it is about a film directed by a Frenchman, Florian Zeller who, if he is a recognized playwright, had never (or almost) never held a camera. Since The Artist, by Michel Hazanavicius, his ten nominations and his five statuettes in 2012, no tricolor director had managed to climb into the queen categories of this competition.

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With The Father, adaptation of her play, shot in English with Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman, the 41-year-old writer and playwright, landed six nominations (Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Setting and Best Editing ).

A film hardly cut for the Oscars

The film continues its great adventure that began at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2020, where it received a standing ovation from a theater of 3,000 people, and which continued throughout the year with a harvest of nominations and awards, although it still has not been released in France.

The film is far from being a favorite, “ having no political banner to defend ”, as pointed out by one of its producers, Philippe Carcassonne. Especially since it did not benefit from its American distributor, Sony Classics, a campaign like the one led at the time by Harvey Weinstein to The Artist.

These six nominations are nevertheless unexpected for a film which, on paper, was hardly cut for the Oscars. ” A first Franco-British film on a difficult subject – aging – shot by an inexperienced director : he had to be damn strong to stand out », Underlines its producer.

Robert Hirsch, a life dedicated to the theater

It all started with the play’s international success, The father, created in France by Robert Hirsch, translated and performed in 45 countries. It depicts the painful relationship between an old man who gradually sinks into dementia and his daughter, helpless in the face of her father’s downfall. ” I didn’t have the abstract desire to make a film, but the desire to make this particular film “Explains Florian Zeller and to explore cinematically a” emotional territory that I knew intimately “.

An obstacle course

When he calls Jean-Louis Livi, producer of his first play as director of the Théâtre des Mathurins, to ask him if he would agree to take care of the adaptation of the Father in English and with Anthony Hopkins, he has everything next says yes “ even if I knew it would be complicated ”, tells this one. It associates with the project Philippe Carcassonne who is used to working with the Anglo-Saxons.

As Florian Zeller gets down to script with Christopher Hampton, the British translator of his plays, and obtains the unexpected deal from the 82-year-old actor, begins an obstacle course for his producers to complete the financing – no channel of French television except Canal + did not want to engage – and to obtain hard-fought their British partners the right on the final cut (final cut) which they have legally.

The birth of a filmmaker?

Time is all the more short for the team as the window to start filming, postponed several times, is narrow due to the schedule of Olivia Colman taken by the series The Crown. ” Paradoxically, the budget – 7M euros – was quite high for a film like that, underlines Philippe Carcassonne. Not because of its prestigious cast but because the concept which aims to place the spectator in the head of the character involved expensive technical mechanics of the sets to simulate the metamorphoses of time and space. “.

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It is the success of this poignant film to have succeeded in translating into images the mental prison in which his character sinks. And if Anthony Hopkins is awesome, The Father is not limited to an actor’s performance, nor to filmed theater.

We had confidence in him, but he showed himself on the set to be totally in control of what he wanted to do, including in the direction of actors. It’s great when we start from a dream and it comes true beyond our expectations », Congratulates Jean-Louis Livi, who sees in this the birth of a filmmaker.

Building on this success, Florian Zeller has already announced the adaptation of another of his piecesThe son (1), in a 100% American production, with Hugh Jackman and Laura Dern. His French producers hope for their part to work again one day with him. And why not on an original screenplay this time.

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“The Father”, the surprise guest of the Oscars

Hank Gilbert