Father (2020) ☆☆☆(3/4): A father’s way

Serbian film “Father”, which won the Audience Award and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury when it was shown at the Berlin International Film Festival early in last year, is a dry but haunting observation of one long, grueling personal struggle against the corrupted social system. Initially watching his difficult journey from the distance, I sometimes had doubts on whether his small efforts would make any difference, but the movie let me have more empathy and understanding as duly depicting his desperate status on the screen, and I came to root more for him than expected as becoming more aware of the social injustices inflicted upon him and the people he deeply cares about.

The movie begins the story with one striking dramatic moment. A woman is hurriedly going to somewhere along with her two kids, and it soon turns out that she is going to her husband’s former workplace for protesting about how her husband has been unfairly treated by his employer. While her husband Nikola (Goran Bogdan) was let go two years ago, his employer did not give Nikola any of his delayed wage or the money to compensate for his severance, and Nikola and his wife and kids have been suffering the resulting economic hardships from this. Still mostly unemployed, he has done small menial jobs for supporting his family day by day, but that is not enough at all for him and his family, and things have recently been much worse for them as water and electricity have been cut off from their little shabby house.

Out of sheer desperation and frustration, Nikola’s wife eventually attempts to kill herself as she declared to others who happen to be at the spot. Fortunately, her attempt is failed in the end, and she is quickly taken to a local hospital, but there soon comes another bad news. A couple of social service workers subsequently drop by Nikola’s house just for checking whether he can take care of his two kids alone, and then, despite his modest efforts for improving his domestic environment a bit, they and their direct boss quickly conclude that his two kids should be put into foster care right now.

Nikola naturally resists against this rather harsh bureaucratic decision, but he is reminded again of how helpless his current status is in many aspects. He certainly wants to be stably employed as demanded, but that is nearly impossible considering the poor economic condition of his rural town, and the people working at the social service center are not particularly willing to listen to him, no matter how stubbornly he pleads with them for allowing to see his kids again.

At first, Nikola’s situation looks like a simple bureaucratic matter to be solved someday, but it later turns out that Nikola and his family are another victim of a very serious case of systemic corruption. The supervisor of his case, played by Boris Isaković (He recently played a crucial supporting role in Oscar-nominated Bosnian film “Quo Vadis, Aida?” (2020), by the way) has actually benefited a lot from taking away kids from many poor families like Nikola’s family and then throwing them into foster care, and Nikola cannot possibly sue this deplorable prick at the court because he is virtually untouchable as having many local officials in his pocket.

Nevertheless, Nikola becomes more determined to try anything for getting his kids back, so he decides to go to Belgrade for delivering his petition directly to one of the government ministers. Mainly because he cannot afford to buy the ticket for a bus to Belgrade, he chooses to travel to the city on foot instead, and it seems that all he will have to do is walking along the road to Belgrade during next several days.

Of course, this journey of his turns out to be much more challenging than expected, and the movie phlegmatically depicts a series of small predicaments experienced by Nikola during his journey. Not long after he tries to walk along a highway, he is caught by police officers, and he has no choice but to go along less convenient routes. Because he does not have any money, he has to sleep outside more than once, and that reminds us more of how desperate and helpless he really is.

In such a daunting circumstance like this, the kindness of strangers certainly feels like a blessing to Nikola. At one point, he is so exhausted that he eventually collapses on the ground, but then he is fortunately taken to a nearby hospital, and he comes to have some moment of relaxation before quickly leaving the hospital. When he finally arrives in Belgrade, he gets some unexpected help as trying to accomplish his goal, and there is a little poignant moment when he happens to get a little decent meal thanks to a small human act of generosity.

However, the system Nikola has protested against still does not move much for him, and the screenplay by director Srdan Golubović and his co-writer Ognjen Svilicić, which is inspired by the real-life story of a Serbian guy whose situation was not so different from Nikola’s in the film, still does not overlook its hero’s harsh reality out there. As the center of the film, Goran Bogdan gives a good stoic performance which subtly conveys to us his character’s emotional drama along the story, and that is the main reason why a certain dramatic moment around the end of the story works.

On the whole, “Father” is a little tough piece of work which will demand some patience from you from the beginning, but the movie is worthwhile to watch for its thoughtful handling of story, character, and social issues accompanying them, and I admire its empathic quality a lot. This is another good movie which can function as a glimpse into people different from us, and I really think you should give it a chance someday.

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