After working together two previous times, co-directors Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov have truly found their groove on film number three. It is called The Father, a Bulgarian-Greece co-production. An absurdist type story with plenty of comedic moments and some touching drama thrown in for good measure. Quiet with a generally slow pace, but enough of the human element that it keeps you engaged.
Not all filmmakers understand that when you have what essentially is a sad story to tell you have to temper that at least somewhat with humour or your audience will all fall off board into an abyss of darkness. Grozeva and Valchanov completely understand this. They also have grasped onto the fact that the best films are ones that are highly relatable. The Father is a story which could happen to any one of us at some point in our lives. Families are messy. Messy, but wonderful.
Though both father and son (their characters) are rather comedic here they are still complex. Complex in that they have flaws – sometimes major gaping ones – and are very human. No one wants to watch perfection. Not for very long, anyways. We stay with the film through the quieter moments because we want to see how they will f*@k up next.
After losing his life long partner, Vasil (Ivan Savov – Irina, East/West) is a lost man. So lost, in fact, that when a female neighbour informs him that after his wife’s death she got a phone call from her. Vasil becomes obsessed with communicating with his dead wife. He will go to any length to do this. With single minded determination he looks for signs she is communicating with him. Even claiming that the way the pieces of a broken vase lie on the floor is a message from his wife.
Dragged into this is his estranged son, Pavel (Ivan Barnev – Footsteps in the Sand, Lady Zee). Pavel is so removed from his father’s life that he has lied to his pregnant partner telling her that he is working on a job rather than simply saying he is at his mother’s funeral. Soon this lie comes back to haunt him.
That is because of his father’s crazy behaviour. What should have merely been a couple of days trip to his childhood home becomes a road trip to bring his father to see a psychic who has been recommended to him. This leads to a car crash, an attempt to have his father institutionalized, Vasil disappearing after sleeping outdoors one night, the fruitless pursuit by Pavel for some quince jam, and finally, Pavel being arrested. This is certainly not bringing father and son closer and is also putting Pavel’s relationship in jeopardy as she believes he is having an affair.
No matter how deep Pavel gets into his web of lies and the mess his father has created we still root for him. Root for them. Hope that they become close again. It is apparent they have drifted apart. We see that they need each other, though they are never going to admit it. Due to the ridiculous situations they find themselves in the wedge seems to be getting greater and wider. Still we hope against all hope.
We cheer because neither character is evil. Just a little broken. We relate. The situation they find themselves in – being distant from one another – is one we can relate to. Happens in every family. With the hectic pace of life and technology making connection seemingly harder rather than easier, connection has become trickier. What we have here is a failure to communicate rather than a mortal sin.
I have always argued that a score is an essential part of a film. This one has none and it works here perfectly, even lends to the story.