I have the chance to soak in the frenzy of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) these past few days in the big TO. The largest film fest in the world, this year TIFF offers over 300 films from 60 countries from September 6 to 15, a delectable smorgasbord for movie lovers . On Saturday, Sept. 8th at 7:00 pm, while the enthusiastic crowd gathered along the barricades outside the Elgin Theatre on Yonge Street, hoping to get a glimpse of Brad Pitt on the red carpet, I lined up patiently with a less boisterous group of ticket holders outside the same building an hour early to get into the Winter Garden Theatre for the premiere screening of When Did You Last See Your Father?
Based on the award-winning and highly acclaimed memoir written by British author Blake Morrison, WDYLSYF is a fine piece of artistry crafted by some of today’s top British talents. Director Anand Tucker’s work includes the Oscar nominated and BAFTA winning Hilary and Jackie (1998), and co-producing Girl With a Pearl Earring (2003), another Oscar nominee and numerous European film award winner. The stellar cast of WDYLSYF is led by Jim Broadbent and Colin Firth, playing father Arthur and son Blake Morrison, with strong supporting roles from Juliet Stevenson as the mother and newcomer Matthew Beard, who plays the teenage Blake.
The words “A True Story” in the opening credits prepared the audience for something real and meaningful. We were led to explore a multi-layered and poignant story about a fragile father-son relationship that is brought to the forefront at the father’s imminent death from cancer. Jim Broadbrent could well deserve an acting nomination as the ailing father, headstrong, overbearing, and ever the victor in whatever circumstances, even in the face of terminal illness. Colin Firth aptly portrays the middle-aged Blake, already an acclaimed writer and poet, yet still waiting to hear from his father the two precious words he has longed for all his life: “well done”.
Intense but not draining, the director effectively sprinkles enough comic relief at the right moments to move the story along with poignancy but steers the viewers away from sentimentality. I always think that Colin Firth excels in subtle, understated acting, his every gaze speaks volume. Here again he has shown once more that he is a master of this craft.
However, I must admit that Matthew Beard, a first time film actor who plays the teenage Blake shines with his natural and superb performance, bringing out the love/hate sentiments he has harboured towards his father from the various situations he has been pushed into, such as the reluctant camping trip, the impromptu driving lesson, the numerous embarrassment and even public humiliation he has suffered from his father’s brash and insensitive comments…but above all, from the burden he has to bear as a witness to the wrongs of his own parent.
The restrained acting by the stellar cast effectively conveys the pathos and conflicting family relationships as well as the ambivalence of a son trying to come to terms with resentment towards a callous, egotistic, and dying father. Firth’s subtle characterization of the adult Blake poignantly portrays the crux of his torments. It is a painful relief at the end of the movie when he realizes that sometimes one has to resolve anger and disappointment on one’s own, unilaterally, including the most difficult discipline, forgiveness and the letting go. If the victim has forgiven, should the witness keeps on holding grudges? There’s no simple answer, and the film has successfully dealt with such conflicts through the multi-layered characterization and the reflective shots through mirrors in many scenes.
Filmed mostly on location in beautiful Derbyshire, England, the movie’s inspiring cinematography works like a soothing balm, together with the light-hearted and nostalgic childhood scenes, the film is an enjoyable visual treat. Again, such is the real portrayal of the issues we face, natural beauty can sometimes offset the darker side of human nature. Humour and pathos can co-exist.
A bonus in going to film festival screening is the chance to hear the makers of the movie reflect on their work. The audience was pleasantly surprised to see the director Anand Tucker and actor Jim Broadbent come on stage to answer questions after the movie. Listening to them, I felt that I’d only discovered the outer layer of a very complex and pleasurable artifact that I wanted to see the movie all over again.
And so I did two days later.
~ ~ ~ Ripples
14 thoughts on “When Did You Last See Your Father?”
Your review is very good. I hope it comes out on DVD so I can see it too. I ended up watching something at TIFF too – Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. My friend had tickets from his boss but couldn’t go. The movie wasn’t nearly as good as the movie you watched sounds. I did get to see Ethan Hawke though.
Mel: I’m afraid it’ll take some time for the DVD to come out…The movie’s scheduled release date in the US is Feb. 2008, don’t know about Canada. Hopefully they’ll have a change of heart and move it forward to the end of this year, in time for all the Awards early next year. A viable alternative is Away From Her, which is out on DVD now.
I enjoy the blog a lot, and am SO glad that someone who loves the arts gets a steady flow of inspiration going to write. (I, on the other hand, don’t seem to be able to ‘sustain’ this way)
Anyways, my colleague MABEL sent me your page telling me it’s her friend who wrote it. As a regular-movie-goer and half an arts fanatic. I’d say your reviews are great, in a way that introduce the films as well as drawing our interests to something more than what the media is interested in. The wider perspective is wonderful, and inspiring and certainly will keep reading it too! Nice work!
Wilson: Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you enjoy my Blog and hope it can be an inspiration for you. Thanks for reading.
I couldn’t help but to roll out of bed & read the comments from other readers. I didn’t want to wait until the morning. It’s way passed 12:30am at this part of the world.
Indeed, I really enjoy your non-bias, straight from the heart reviews. Keep up with the good work….wish I could write like you. I do enjoy reading your blog and love the layout & design. Good night!
Awaiting more exciting updates from Ripple Effects. The pressure is on Artidkc.
I think Jim Broadbent is brilliant (no slight to Mr. Firth). Will be on the lookout for this movie on cable or DVD as it is not the type usually available in our soulless multiplexes (really, doesn’t that word sound like a disease?).
Many thanks for the recommendation, Arti!
‘Soulless multiplexes’… what an apt description! Like, ‘elevator music’. But then again, they sure know which films might bring them high sales number. I saw The King’s Speech in a cineplex. I was turned away once due to a full house… and the two times I saw it, they were mostly full, even at 1:20 pm on a weekday!
If you like Jim Broadbent, here’s a more timely film he did which is a ‘must see’ for you Another Year, which is excellent and I’m afraid being snubbed from awards this year… albeit highly deserving.
Thanks for linking to this post of yours, Arti. This sounds a movie I may like a lot.
I’ve got a huge fan of Colin among my friends. I’m sure she has this one in her incredible collection. Going to borrow asap.
Thanks for coming over to read my review. I’d be interested to see what you think of it after you’ve watched it. I think Colin Firth deserves to be cast as a ‘leading man’ much sooner. I’m glad he’s finally been acknowledged and given the acclaim that’s long due. Hope you enjoy this one.