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‘Full of joy’: Six Oscar nominations follow Florian Zeller’s stressful wait for release of ‘The Father’

Anthony Hopkins and director Florian Zeller while filming “The Father.” (Sean Gleason/Sony Pictures Classics)

Florian Zeller had to sail many troubled waters to get his first film released.

For the writer and director of “The Father,” it was stressful to see the film’s release pushed back a few times.

But redemption came when Zeller’s film received six Oscar nominations on March 15.

“I’m extremely joyful and grateful,” Zeller says. “It’s not the best year to get your first movie released. It was demanding. You always have that feeling that it’s not going to happen. But my family and friends were sending encouragement. I’m so full of joy.”

“The Father” tells the story of Anthony, who is 80, mischievous, living defiantly alone and rejecting the caregivers that his daughter, Anne, introduces.

Yet help is also becoming a necessity for Anne; she can’t make daily visits anymore, and Anthony’s grip on reality is unraveling. The film is available on demand beginning Friday, March 26.

Zeller says that as viewers see the ebb and flow of his memory, they wonder how much of his own identity and past can Anthony cling to.

How does Anne cope as she grieves the loss of her father, while he still lives and breathes before her?

Olivia Colman and Florian Zeller while filming “The Father.” (Sean Gleason/Sony Pictures Classics)

The film stars Anthony Hopkins as Anthony and Olivia Colman as Anne. Both picked up nominations for acting, and the film picked up a nomination for best picture. The other three nominations were for adapted screenplay, production design and film editing.

“The Father” is based on Zeller’s play of the same name.

Zeller’s journey has been a long, arduous one.

“I started to write the script about four or five years ago,” Zeller says. “I always saw Anthony Hopkins doing that part. It’s really joyful that he was able to be part of the film.”

Zeller wrote the play from personal experience.

“I had been raised by my grandmother, and she suffered from dementia,” he says. “We often don’t think of dementia, but almost every life has been affected by it. Then there’s the dilemma of what to do with the people. In the film, Anne struggles with that just as Anthony struggles with the loss of his thoughts and memory.”

Zeller also had the obstacle of bringing his play to life on screen, which is different from staging a play.

“The idea was to put the audience in this unique place,” he says. “I wanted each person to question everything. It’s as if they were in the character’s head. It’s something that only cinema can do. As you are watching, it becomes this immersive experience.”

Zeller wanted to keep the film simple, and he says the cast worked beautifully.

“Anthony, I am full of admiration,” he says. “It was brave of him to take on this role at 83. He is this artist that is putting himself at risk with this role of exploring those emotions. He was connected to his own anxiety and fear. He did it in such a beautiful way.”

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