The MV Film Society hosts two new films starting on Friday, March 12. “The Father” plays at the M.V. Film Center, and “Still Life in Lodz” screens virtually. Directed by Florian Zeller, “The Father” stars Sir Anthony Hopkins as Anthony, and narrates his heartbreaking decline into dementia. The documentary “Still Life in Lodz,” directed by Slawomir Grünberg, describes Lilka Elbaum’s return to Poland and the still life painting that has been the source of her memories growing up in Lodz.
“The Father” begins with a curmudgeonly Anthony insisting to his daughter Anne (Olivia Colman) that he doesn’t need a caregiver. Anthony is convinced the former caregiver Angela was stealing from him and, as an example, he can’t find his watch. Anne retrieves the watch, however, from under the bathtub, its usual hiding spot. She tells her father that she’s met someone, and plans to move to Paris to live with him. It’s a move that upsets him.
Laura (Imogen Poots), a new caregiver, arrives at Anne’s behest, and Anthony puts on the charm for her. He tells Laura he was a dancer, and references his other daughter, Lucy, who was an artist. Anne quietly reminds him he was an engineer, and it turns out that Lucy has died.
Anthony’s confusion becomes increasingly evident. At this point, however, the film continues its objective point of view, with Anthony as its central character. The focus increasingly shifts to Anne and the distress and grief she feels at the difficulties of dealing with her father. With this transition, the film begins to shift the viewpoint to the world inside Anthony’s mind.
Frequent camera views of the empty rooms in Anne’s apartment, where her father now lives, help develop the sense of confusion the viewer increasingly shares with Anthony. The film’s edits, which abruptly shift what the viewer sees, also suggest Anthony’s mounting confusion, until the viewer experiences Anthony’s dementia. The success of “The Father” lies in Hopkins’s powerfully persuasive performance.
‘Still Life in Lodz’
Lodz is a manufacturing city in Central Poland that was once home to a large Jewish community. Boston writer Lilka Elbaum returns to Lodz to revisit the places where she grew up before she and her family were ousted in 1968 by anti-Semitism. What she remembers and finds is a still life painting that had hung there since 1893, through three generations of family. The painting becomes a metaphor for the tragic history and changes that the city and its Jewish population underwent.
The journey Elbaum takes reconnects her to the past she had left behind. Visiting her former home and surroundings offers a tribute to the life that her relatives experienced during the Holocaust. Touching the walls of the rooms she inhabited growing up in the postwar era becomes an important element of her memories, including the still life painting hung over her bed — “It was the first thing I saw in the morning.” It remained from the era when her family lived there, followed by a German family, and then the return of her family until 1968.
A second-generation survivor of the Holocaust like Elbaum, Paul Celler explores their shared memories, as well as those of Israeli photographer Roni Ben Ari. Celler remembers hearing about his mother’s confinement to the Jewish ghetto, followed by her survival in Auschwitz, which, he says, “was a true miracle.”
Ben Ari came from a family of successful manufacturers, and she speaks of the family menorah used during the Hanukkah holiday, an object that holds evocative memories for her. Walking up the same stairs as her parents and grandparents had also becomes a significant marker of memory for her.
When Germans invaded Poland in 1939, the 250,000 Jews living in Lodz were herded into a ghetto, and Elbaum describes the bridge that allowed residents to get to another section of the ghetto. In this manner, Elbaum uses archival photographs to connect the history of Lodz with her memories of the city. The film also employs drawings and animated sequences to illustrate life at the time, and, most effectively, blends the photographs with the same drawings. Most poignant, though, is Elbaum’s return of the still life to the wall where it hung for so many years.
Information and tickets for “The Father” at the Film Center and “Still Life in Lodz” virtually are available at mvfilmsociety.com.