Florian Zeller – The Father: from stage to screen

The Father
UGC Distribution

The 2021 Oscars event film is released on DVD and blu-ray.

A rain of nominations and trophies came to greet across the Atlantic The Father, the first feature film of Florian Zeller. Just before the oscars ceremony, where he won the statuettes for Best Adapted Screenplay (won with Christopher Hampton) and Best Actor for Anthony Hopkins, the director recounted in First (n ° 517, with Eiffel on the cover) the eventful backstage of this adaptation of his play, performed in 45 countries around the world. We are sharing this interview on the occasion of the film’s DVD and blu-ray release on September 29.

Florian Zeller wins Oscar for best adapted screenplay for The Father: “Thanks to Anthony Hopkins”

The positive rumor has been spreading for over a year. Since the world premiere at Sundance of The Father, the first film by Florian Zeller, and the words of the critic of Hollywood Reporter, Todd McCarthy: ” The best film on the ravages of aging since Love. ” Just that ! A year later, with the awards season in full swing across the Atlantic, Zeller is crumbling with nominations and trophies. So many springboards for the Grail, the Oscar nominations! Zooming in from his Parisian apartment, Florian Zeller does not shy away from his pleasure. “The shooting was so often postponed and the theatrical release so often shifted that all this brings me immense joy. I am aware that if this pandemic had occurred a year earlier, The Father would never have existed. “

The beginning of this eventful history dates back to September 2012 and the creation of the seventh play by Florian Zeller. The father will hold the poster for more than three years with three Molières in 2014 for the play and its two actors, Robert Hirsch and Isabelle Gélinas, who play this father suffering from Alzheimer’s gradually losing his footing and his daughter who tries to accompany him on this descent into hell. In the process, Philippe Le Guay adapted it to the cinema for what will remain the ultimate role of Jean Rochefort: Florida. But the film, a poorly balanced mix of comedy and drama, quickly falls into oblivion. For his part, Florian Zeller did not participate, busy giving other life to his play by entrusting the work of translation and adaptation into English to Christopher Hampton, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of the Dangerous Liaisons. From London to Broadway, the play has triumphed in 45 countries. ” When I started to write The Father, explains Florian Zeller, I myself am connected to a personal story: I was raised by my grandmother whom I accompanied when she went through this labyrinth of senile dementia. But I myself doubted that the subject was going to concern a lot of people. Accompany the piece around the world and hear its spectators share their stories after the representations overwhelmed me and then projected into the idea to make a film of it. ” With the feeling that this cathartic aspect would take on an even more powerful dimension on the big screen.

For Zeller, a man of the theater, cinema is a lifelong passion. He even made a short in 2008, Our frivolities with Sara Forestier. “Going long was a desire present in me for a long time. But I was aware of the investment that it requires. It only made sense if the project was more important than anything the rest. ” The father will be the lucky one. But in the language of Shakespeare. ” My dream immediately crystallized on Anthony Hopkins. Beyond the admiration I have for him, he was going to be something unsettling to see the one who played a lot of characters in the control… gradually losing that control. Either exactly the experience I wanted to offer spectators : step by step lose someone who is us familiar. “

Oscar winner for The Father, Anthony Hopkins films himself in front of his father’s grave

Mental maze

Even before writing a line, Zeller talks about his idea to two French producers: Jean-Louis Livi (who had produced his first play, The other, and his first short) and Philippe Carcassonne (the co-producer of Florida) who has already had the opportunity to work with the Anglo-Saxons. “I found it safe to develop this project from producers that I knew and who would allow me to keep the final cut, tradition dear to the France which does not go without saying elsewhere. ” A right that the Livi-Carcassonne tandem will succeed in conquering with a hard fight by obtaining from their foreign partners that the final cut be validated by a panel of which they would have the majority. A rare exception to a rule known to be relentless in Anglo-Saxon countries.

Zeller therefore begins to write his film. “Rediscovering his text is fascinating. I do not absolutely did not want to film a play nor artificially add outdoor scenes to make cinema. I meant to stay in a unique room and plunge the spectator into a labyrinth, push him trying to put the pieces of a puzzle in order one of which would always be lacking and prevent to finish it. ” At the same time, Carcassonne and Livi finance the development of the film, only finding immediate support from a single TV channel, Canal +, and Orange Studio, which will distribute the film. They hire Hampton to translate the screenplay and organize a cast of British producers including David Parfitt (Oscar winner for Shakespeare in Love) victorious. At this point, none of the producers think Anthony Hopkins is going to embark on the adventure. But nothing stops Zeller who sends him the script like a bottle in the sea. “Anthony lives in Los Angeles for years and hardly runs anymore in Europe. ” But his agent contacts him to tell him that the actor wishes to meet him. Zeller then jumps on a plane. “I suspected that at 83 years old, he would not necessarily want to play situations linked to Alzheimer’s. But I knew he still had never played what this role was going to offer him and that he could experiment with new things. I felt from the outset that he had seen in this material an invitation to go to a stranger who tempted him, on condition obviously that I know where I wanted to take him. “ But for Zeller, this idea is very precise. ” To ask him to be rather than to play, with as a spring main his own sense of mortality. ” Hopkins accepts while explaining to him that he did not want endless discussions about his character. ” We was on the same page! “

All the signals are then green for the filmmaker who immediately obtains the agreement of Olivia Colman to play the daughter of Hopkins, before her Oscar for The Favorite. “I admire this actress who gives off something magical: from the moment you see it, we love it. This immediate empathy would constitute a major asset for his character and the movie. ” A film that one could imagine financed without difficulty with such a casting. Wrongly. Because then begins a very long period of uncertainties and stop and go. First, because a partner who is essential for financing fails them at the last moment. Then because Olivia Colman has a precise shooting window to shoot, between two sessions of The Crown. The situation is as clear as it is stressful: the shooting must begin on May 13, 2019 or the film will not be made. “However, the English legal process is very long, populated of arsonist firefighters. We spend a lot of time and money to protect against unlikely disasters which, in real life, occur once on thousand. As if they were applying the methods used for 400 million blockbusters of dollars “, explains Philippe Carcassonne a few days later. In short, without a new investor, it is impossible to win this race against time. It is Christophe Spadone, who has already supported Carcassonne in several projects, who will play the savior with a decisive contribution. “The Father is not out of price [6 millions d’euros] and I didn’t have the feeling that the subject was particularly frightening, says Zeller. But it was still a first film shot in English, which could not therefore claim an advance on receipts. It is there that we realize to what extent France is a country of cinema that supports artists enormously with invaluable aids so as not to depend on the sole market logic. ” The arrival at the end of December 2018 of the British channel Film 4 in the financing loop will finally remove the remaining doubts.

Permanent insecurity

Filming got off to a good start on May 13, 2019. “I approached him with a mixture of extreme nervousness and great concentration. After all we had been through, I had not the right not to go to the end of what I had on your mind “, recognizes Florian Zeller. For this, he breaks with his theatrical habits by not doing any rehearsal. “Both to put me in a certain insecurity and because, for such an intuitive actor than Anthony, repeating would have solidified things and would have been counterproductive to play a character in permanent insecurity. ” It is every day on the set that these exchanges take place “With the aim of living each scene instead of intellectualizing them ”. Without that, keeping the schedule for the six weeks of filming would have been impossible in a language that is not his and facing a comedian of the caliber of Hopkins. ” TO his age, he necessarily considers that he has no lesson to receive from someone who makes their first film and expresses it frankly. But Florian went up to the front of extremely subtle way. There were conflicts but Hopkins has always recognized that Florian’s ideas were the right ones ”, underlines Philippe Carcassonne. “I was warned of his reputation, nods Florian Zeller, but, very quickly, he gave me other types of signals. Of insecurity. Of tenderness. He has this ability to go far into the conflict but always know how to come down and come back to the other. “

The well-deserved laudatory reviews surrounding Anthony Hopkins’ internalized composition proved him right. And Zeller will not stop there. The desire for a second feature is already there. For the adaptation of another of his pieces, The son. In French or in English? Whatever your choice, an Oscar won on April 26 should settle the question of funding much more quickly.

Trailer of The Father :

The Father: Florian Zeller makes a successful directorial debut [critique]

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