Father (1990)

Reviewed By Stephen Groenewegen
Posted 09/03/03 13:49:59

"Father knows best"
3 stars (Average)

The Australian film Father was released in 1990, soon after Costa-Gavras’ similarly themed Music Box, which starred Jessica Lange and Armin Mueller-Stahl. In Father, Carol Drinkwater (All Creatures Great and Small) is the grown daughter of Max von Sydow’s Joe Mueller, a retired publican who’s accused of being a Nazi war criminal.

His accuser is Iya Zetnick (Julia Blake). The film’s only flashback is the taut and powerful opening scene. The 12-year old Zetnick regains consciousness in an open grave, partially buried amongst a pile of 120 corpses. Zetnick has been searching for the prison camp commandant who murdered her family for nearly 50 years now, and is convinced that she’s finally traced him to Melbourne.

Like Music Box, war crimes accusations are the trigger for a father-daughter melodrama. Unfortunately, Drinkwater’s Anne is a far weaker presence than Jessica Lange’s headstrong lawyer in the American film. Her character is supposed to have inherited Mueller’s strength and obstinacy, but instead always seems intimidated by him. So Father is left with a hole at the centre, not helped by a plot in need of tightening. A car chase scene in the country is ridiculous and director John Power couldn’t fool me into thinking it had any relevance.

The acting honours belong to von Sydow and Blake. Zetnick is conceived as an isolated loon ranger. It’s a flaw of Tony Cavanaugh and Graham Hartley’s screenplay that she only has the tabloid media on her side and seems unable to muster support from Jewish or anti-Nazi lobbyists. Nevertheless, Blake succeeds in making Zetnick human and a scene in which she breaks down in court has a shattering intensity.

Power also draws a strong performance from von Sydow, whose Mueller is gruff and kind in a grandfatherly way. He’s also believably stern and strong, but never slips into a clichéd or unnatural iciness. Unfortunately, he tips the film’s moral equilibrium off-balance. It’s hard not to remain sympathetic with him - especially when he’s contrasted with Zetnick’s single-minded and ruthless harridan and a daughter that is unable to convincingly explain her actions at the end.

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