Son review: Florian Zeller’s follow-up to a sadistic father

Venice: Hugh Jackman and Laura Dern’s stellar performances cannot emotionally salvage Zeller’s porn story about teen depression.

Florian Zeller doesn’t make movies, he does birth control at 24 frames per second. Adapted from his play of the same name—and adding rich cinematic dimensions to the text’s innovative structural perception—Zeller’s brilliant and ruthless film shook people as it simultaneously conveyed the confusion of suffering from dementia, and the heartache of losing a loved one. one for her. His follow-up, similarly sprung up on stage, made the writer-director’s smashing debut look like a Paddington movie by comparison (both depressing and quality).

It lacks any of the puzzle-box magic that allowed Zeller’s previous film to salvage profound traces of humanity from the carnage of her mental illness,”Son“It presents a solid, straightforward family portrait that underscores the unfeelingness of depression through the simplicity of its plot. Is it an extraordinarily honest depiction of a parent’s helplessness in the face of a cruel, devastating illness, one that might provide a measure of solace to people cursed to live with unfathomable guilt over something they’re not They have the power to prevent it?Despite some key tools and a complete lack of drugs, I’m afraid that may be the case.

At the same time, however, “Son” is also so pornographic in its pain (and it’s completely devoid of air or lightness) that it can’t help but feel like an argument against having children in the first place. What joy can be worth this torment? How are parents supposed to accept that loving their children may not always be enough to save them? These are brave and valid questions for any movie to ask – “It’s better to see something in a dark light than not to see it at all,” one character rightly insists – but Zeller frames them in such a clumsy and adaptive way that love ends up looking more like a responsibility than a reason to live. .

Excellent in a movie that makes great use of its weakness, Hugh Jackman He plays Peter, the kind of father that many fathers in the audience would find too attached to. I mean, who is among us? did not Divorced Laura Dern (as gorgeous as the frustrated Kate), married younger Vanessa Kirby (strong but sidelined as Beth), and raised a child with her in the sprawling Manhattan apartment we’d pay for with an elite lawyer’s salary? No, Peter is all too familiar for his purported determination to give his teenage son – a souvenir from the Kate years – all the love his father never showed him (“Father” is played by the prickly Anthony Hopkins, stopping at for one scene alluding succinctly and erroneously to a kind of Zeller Cinematic Universe co).

Easier said than done. In fact, we feel that Peter’s “failure” with Nicholas may have played a role in his decision to start a new family and start over from scratch. Played by Zen McGrath, a freshman stranded as a recessive character who looks more like a generic archetype of teen depression than he does as a human, 17-year-old Nicholas is no longer the same broad package. Joy that Peter fondly remembered his upbringing as a child. He’s been grouchy in his room, skipping school every day for the past month, and has scared Kate so much that she insists on going to live with Peter, Beth, and baby Theo for a while.

The situation was not entirely improved by a change of scenery. It’s bad enough for Peter that Nicholas remains desperate, and that he makes Beth nervous for his benign energy – we doubt this isn’t the kind of movie that will become a complete “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” even if it proves difficult to unwind after that erroneous reference to an old rifle. In the first chapter – but worst of all is how living with his eldest son forces Peter to face his own guilt, and feel the stress of being a father and a child at the same time.

Even in the absence of aeration (the record of purgatory on which Zeller settled from the start), “Son” resonates with uncomfortable realities both big and small. By infusing the part with enough ignorant vanity to make Peter look like a life-size Gregory Peck, Jackman bridles a true tragedy from the shortsightedness of his character’s logical approach to an irrational problem.

Many of the film’s early scenes are rich in the faltering frustration of a parent trying to decipher their children’s mindset from the hieroglyphs of closed doors and murky conversations. Peter assumes that Nicholas’ depression must have something to do with his love life, not knowing where to turn next; Despite the harshness of Zeller and Christopher Hampton’s screenplay, no film has ever dramatized how parents rely on their children’s schoolwork as a measure of their success.

However, “Son” is so suffocated by the intensity of its writing and the sterility of its environments that the film’s characters cannot get past the scenarios they represent. Yes, depression is a beast with mental illness, and it’s admirable that Zeller would rather be scandalous and broadly honest in its portrayal of it rather than brute-force and hurtful blunders, but depriving Nicholas of any identifiable traits other than his illness becomes artificial. Its terms, and—harsh as it seems to admit—make the character a lot more troublesome than it needs to be to frustrate his parents.

What is heartbreaking is Zeller’s decision to entrap a child into such a dull and colorless world, which seems false in a film that avoids the degree of subjectivity that defined “the father” (a strange choice, given this story’s focus on how difficult it is to reconcile the often overlapping and conflicting responsibilities of Sometimes family members may feel for each other. If Peter and Kate always find themselves out of balance, audiences spend every minute of this movie waiting for the other shoe to fall, and this time there’s no official structure to help seize that split. Moment of Flight – an impromptu family dance sequence set to a classic Tom Jones song – feels like nothing as much as it feels Mandatory scene of forced happiness in the sad movie where everything goes to shit. Even Hopkins’ appearance doesn’t wound deep enough to draw blood, even if it was necessary to identify the kinds of genetic harm Peter feared to pass on to his son.

The full extent of this mischief isn’t revealed until the last 25 minutes or so, making for the most sadistic ending of any movie this side of Lars von Trier’s “Antichrist.” it’s not what or what It happens that this is very punitive, necessarily – in broad strokes, “The Son” could not come to any other conclusion – but rather how Zeller rubs the faces of his characters in them, as well as ours with them. While there is great value to the film being willing to confront the terrible truth that love isn’t always enough, “The Son” doesn’t know how to do it without spitting us out in the process, delivering punch after slam dunk until Peter’s severity of impotence is scrapped from Through the Zeller control dodge.

I don’t remember the last time I cried so hard, or resented every tear I shed. I raced home to cuddle with my son once this movie was over, relieved that he’s still only two, but also more terrified than ever that he’s not going to stay that way. As I wrapped my arms around his little body and lifted him into the air, I found myself wondering if today’s unfathomable joy was worth tomorrow’s potential heartache. It’s a doubt that every parent goes through some stage or (and) the other, but also something that made me so thankful that I didn’t see that movie yesterday.

Grade: c

“The Son” premiered in 2022 Venice Film Festival. Sony Pictures Classics will appear in theaters on Friday, November 11th.

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