As the last screenings of Cairo International Film Festival’s main international competition’s movies, I went into in the Good News theater waiting for another humdrum festival day to pass.
Up until that point, I hadn t seen a single great film in the competition and I honestly didn’t expect that to change with “And When Did You Last See Your Father? the UK’s second entry in the main competition.
Forty minutes into the film, I realized that I was watching, hands down, the best film in the competition this year. By the end of the film, a larger truth emerged: This is one of the finest movies of the year.
Based on the bestselling autobiography of British writer Blake Morrison, “Father is a film about memories, a dysfunctional father-son relationship, grief, love and forgiveness.
The film charts the bumpy, love/hate relationship between Morrison (Colin Firth) and his father Arthur (Jim Broadbent). It begins in the early 90s when Blake learns that his father is suffering from terminal cancer, giving him only a few weeks to live. He moves to the Yorkshire village, where he spent his childhood, to stay beside his mother and attempt to reach a kind of reconciliation with his father and himself.
His room, Arthur’s old car, photos and Yorkshire s vast and quiet meadows reminds him of all the embarrassments, humiliations and qualms his father subjected him to.
Arthur doesn’t emerge as the monstrous, wife-beating father other films, with similar themes, depict. On the contrary, he’s funny, kind-hearted, brisk, charming and caring. Yet, he’s also overbearing, deceitful and sanctimonious.
The brilliance of veteran Oscar winner Jim Broadbent’s direction lies in his incredible panache to combine Arthur’s contrasting traits in a figure that appears like a flawed man whose misgivings are only felt and endured by his son.
Young Blake (Matthew Beard), on the other hand, might appear as a spoilt teen going through the usual teenage angst that might be, after all, the reason behind his hatred to his father.
Yet Firth’s stone-cold, disorientated face as the older Blake exhibits a long and deep history of unspoken sentiments far beyond the limited, and temporary, teenage angst.
In order to understand the roots of Blake’s resentment towards his father, an earlier scene in the film should be observed carefully. Blake, now a prominent poet, is honored for his work at a gala where everyone seems excited for him except his dad who mocks his award and asserts that he still believes that being a poet is not a real job.
What Arthur, and some audience members, never manage to understand is Blake. Behind his whining, impolite demeanor and shallow ingratitude is a kid living in the shadows of his father who can be too self-centered occasionally to recognize that. Blake, after many years, remains this sensitive kid yearning for acceptance from his father.
Anand Tucker (“Hillary & Jackie, “Shopgirl ) presents a faithful adaptation of Morrison’s modern classic. He closely adheres to the latter’s convoluted, non-linear narrative technique, juggling different events from Morrison’s past and present in a fashion that never distracts or hinders the natural progression of his story.
The bright English countryside scenery is breathtaking and Tucker’s fluid, highly receptive and lyrical direction elevates what might have seemed initially on paper to be a simple, formulaic tearjerker into a beautiful ode to a complex relationship.
Anyone who’s ever had a difficult or intricate relationship with their father will relate to this film. In fact, the film’s so heartfelt and true that some people might find it difficult to watch, especially near the end.
Tucker circumvents the standard final dramatic confrontation between Blake and his father à la the equally genuine “The Barbarian Invasion or “Big Fish. Blake reaches his resolution in a highly poetic and symbolic scene, where Firth ultimately drops his guard and breaks the audiences’ heart, which captures the essence of the father-son relationship.
Blake Morrison, after finishing his book, admitted that he could’ve never been the person he has become if his father was a different person.
“And When Did You Last See Your Father? is an emotional, frank and stunning film that left the audience in tears. As credits rolled, I tried to hide my face, hoping no one would see my palpable emotional outburst. My colleague Michaela Singer came in, with a face no different than mine and we started to observe some of the expressions on other viewers’ faces who lost their composure.
As we went to have a little chat with the film’s producer Elizabeth Karlsen following the press conference, one last thought came in my mind: No matter how complicated and unconventional fathers at times express their love to their children, this basic, unconditional love revealed only when they’re gone is what truly remains for eternity.