Toronto 2019: The Father

Ivan Barnev (L) and Ivan Savov in THE FATHER. Courtesy of Abraxas Film.

The Father is about as dark and comedic as a film could possibly be when it comes to a husband suffering from the loss of his wife.

I watched a number of films going into the festival but what struck me the most is the number of films dealing with death.  Everyone responds to death differently.  While one family member can go into a depression, another will go about their life acting as if nothing happened.  This is kind of what we see in The Father.  Here we have a husband grieving his wife while his son just wants to get back to his wife at home as well as work.  The two couldn’t be more different.

The film starts with the funeral for Valentina (Maria Bakalova), wife of Vassil (Ivan Savov) and mother to Pavel (Ivan Barnev).  Vassil and Pavel have an estranged relationship with each other.  However, we know we’re watching a dark comedy from the very minute that Vassil holds up the funeral so that Pavel can take photos of Valentina in her coffin.  This moment plays less for shock and more so for laughs.  It gets worse throughout the day when Pavel is shamed for his mother not living long enough to see grandchildren.

A relative suggests going to visit Ruvi, a famous medium living nearby.  This comes after Lyubka (Tanya Shahova) tells everyone that Valentina called from beyond the grave.  Imagine how Vassil must feel when he learns this.  Whatever he feels, Pavel feels quite the opposite.  What the journey reveals is a stark disagreement between father and son.  The father is clearly still suffering from post-traumatic shock.  He tells Pavel about the last time he spoke to his wife, where she said “I have something very important to tell you” but the battery died.

The Father was awarded the Crystal Globe award for Best Film during the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.  That’s a pretty huge honor for the film.  I’m glad to see the dark comedy also selected for Toronto as such.  While I do not know what the future holds, I hope this film is able to find an audience.  While it’s inspired by writer-director Petar Valchanov’s own experiences, this is a universal story.  Pavel tags along with his father on what I would call a wild goose chase.  Or something similar.  I hope you get the idea.

Because this is a universal story, I can easily imagine English-language remake.  As I just said, this film is very personal to the filmmakers because it’s inspired by their own life.  If such a remake were to stay true to this film, I could certainly imagine the film bringing in an audience.  Plus, the film is a comedy so you can’t go wrong!

Everyone may have their own ways to grieve.  The Father presents one such way of grieving in a comedic manner.

DIRECTORS/SCREENWRITERS:  Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov
CAST:  Ivan Barnev, Ivan Savov, Tanya Shahova, Hristofor Nedkov, Nikolay Todorov, Boyan Doychinov, Margita Gosheva, Ivanka Brotoeva

The Father holds its North American premiere during the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival in the Contemporary World Cinema program. Grade: 4/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.