What the characters of The Father don’t—or can’t—tell each other is just enough to keep the film’s plot in motion. As written and directed by Petar Valchanov and Kristina Grozeva, this may summon sighs of exasperation; it could also trigger a wince of recognition, especially for fathers and sons. It’s the prickly nature of this specific conflict that makes the film difficult to watch at times—and the relief of its ending all the more sweet.
Pavel (Ivan Barnev) arrives late to his mother’s funeral, which does not endear him to his father Vassil (Ivan Savov), already an impatient man. Lost in his grief, Vassil is convinced his wife was trying to tell him something important before she died and now, from beyond the grave, is sending messages. Much to Pavel’s chagrin—as he too is spinning stories with his own wife—this sends his father on a looping and determined mission to uncover the mystery. Filmed entirely with handheld cameras on location in rural Bulgaria, there’s a looseness to The Father that generates much of its tension and surprise. (A late scene in which Savov’s Vassil steals a horse-drawn cart, for example, is something to see.) The straight-man performance from Barnev doesn’t grant much purchase, but Savov’s livewire turn projects anger and sadness in just the right mixture to get us to invest.
The Father’s small-scale revelations don’t necessarily change anything, because they can’t. Valchanov and Grozeva do enough to shift our perspective though. And like any good film, one that creates believable characters in a world that feels real, we can imagine what comes next for both these men.