Falling is a certainly a beautiful film, as you’d expect from polymath aesthete Viggo Mortensen, making his debut as director here: he produced, wrote the script, did the score, acts, and probably made the tea. Lord of the circus ring, no doubt.
But his film is also a very tough watch at times. The father, Willis, has bouts of alcoholic rage and bitter dementia that unleash unpleasantries and insults against his gay son (played by Viggo), past marriages, any number of targets, even the grandchildren’s hair colour and nose piercings. In flashback, the younger Willis’ moods are often portrayed as even worse. It’s uncomfortable.
The elderly Dad, an irascible farmer in the film to Viggo’s own character of a gay LA Dad, is played, magnificently, by veteran character actor Lance Henriksen who’s been in over 200 movies, many of them in what we used to fondly call the ‘straight-to-video’ era (Piranha 2, The Mangler, Mind Ripper and Sasquatch Mountain) but many are also classics such as Aliens, The Terminator, Pumpkinhead, Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark and Jean Claude van Damme’s Hard Target.
He was also in the Al Pacino thriller Dog Day Afternoon and the list of army sergeants, grizzled cowboys or mercenary leaders is impressive. But nothing is up there with this performance, which has already got many tipping him for a well-deserved Oscar nomination at the age of 80.
As gruff and spiky a presence as he is, Henriksen is amazing in Falling, going from anger to distracted reminiscence in a heart beat, softening for a moment before snapping back into resentment and anger. Horrible at times though his character may be, you still somehow feel for him, for the pain he’s hiding, even as he’s offending most of his family at a reunion lunch, and particularly Viggo’s husband in the picture, Terry Paul.
Falling was selected for Cannes 2020, which of course didn’t happen but artistic director Thierry Fremaux still announced the films he would have programmed anyway, and Falling would have impressed, with its beautiful camerawork and obvious craft.
The movie is dedicated to Viggo’s own parents which of course begs the question about how personal it is. The director is keen to point out that his own father was not as cruel as Willis and that their own father-son relationship was warmer and more communicative than the emotionally abusive one we seen on screen.
But it’s a constantly intriguing piece, with clashes of ideology and generation, and a tenderly difficult handling of dementia, a subject cropping up more and more in film at the moment.
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