At The Movies: The Father casts dementia as the villain

A still from the film The Father starring Olivia Colman (left) and Anthony Hopkins. PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

The Father (PG13)

97 minutes, opens on Thursday (April 15)

5 stars

In movies, dementia stories tend to be journeys of pain, learning and acceptance. The unique characteristics of the disease that set it apart from other forms of debilitation are skimmed over in favour of big, generic moments of uplift.

In Florian Zeller's play-turned-movie, however, dementia is, as they say, a character in its own right. It is a sadist, a torturer who has singled out Anthony (Anthony Hopkins) as his plaything.

Anthony is riddled with paranoia, for example, because people are not who they seem to be. They might be actors, taking advantage of his spotty memory to swindle him. Time is slippery - in one moment, he is a boy in his childhood home and in another, he is in his London apartment, a grown man with a wife and daughters.

Trouble is, his daughter Anne (Olivia Colman) does not look like Anne at all. Could she also be one of "them"?

Anthony's agony is also the audience's because the story never verifies the information he is perceiving. In his looking-glass world, who can say if the nice helper (played by Imogen Poots) is who she claims to be?

In lesser hands, revealing events through the eyes of an untrustworthy narrator could have created a longer version of a Twilight Zone episode - one in which a man is abducted by aliens and hooked into a simulation that is almost, but not quite, like the Earth he knows.

A recipient of six Oscar nominations - including Best Actor for Hopkins and Best Supporting Actress for Colman - the film treads lightly on its psychological thriller underpinnings while still using them with terrifying effectiveness.

There is an unsettling surprise in almost every scene, but Colman's and Hopkin's humanity make sure the audience sticks with the story and is invested in every moment.

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (M18)

A still from the film Borat Subsequent Moviefilm featuring Sacha Baron Cohen. PHOTO: AMAZON STUDIOS

96 minutes, streaming on Amazon Prime Video

4 stars

In 2006, Borat was not just a movie. It grew into a cultural milestone, spawning a dozen catchphrases and a hundred stereotypes about the backwardness of parts of the former Soviet Union.

What it failed to do was satirise the United States, despite creating prank scenarios in which Borat - British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen posing as a Kazakh journalist of the film's title - interacted with non-actors to expose primeval attitudes about masculinity, guns, social class and race.

The film's popularity in the US shows that some things are impervious to satire.

In this follow-up, Cohen is back as Borat, in a new disguise, but with the same provocations designed to shock both his unwitting participants as well as viewers.

With Bulgarian actress Maria Bakalova playing his daughter Tutar, the adorably obtuse Borat roams 2020 America just as election fever is heating up, along with a rising awareness of the coronavirus. With Tutar, Borat goads conservatives into speaking unguardedly about abortion, sex trafficking and a range of bonkers conspiracy theories.

Bakalova is a revelation, turning what might have been a cartoon into a fully realised character in a performance that has earned her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination.

The duo's stunts involving former vice-president Michael Pence and conservative lawyer Rudy Giuliani have made the news, but there are plenty of other moments that will leave viewers gasping with laughter, possibly followed by sobs of pity for a national situation that is beyond parody.

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