VIFF Film Review - Falling (2020)


If you’ve ever watched a family member slip away due to dementia or Alzheimer’s this film will hit you right in the gut. Written and directed by Viggo Mortensen, Falling is a story about a man who is trying to reconcile with his ailing and miserable father. The film weaves together present day and flash backs of not so warm and fuzzy memories from the past.  John, the dutiful son, has brought his father Willis to stay with him in California so he can find a home closer to his adult children. Although he may have agreed to it previously, faced with the reality of leaving his farm home in the Midwest has Willis nearly kicking and screaming. John’s patience is tested at every step by his elderly father. He puts up with verbal abuse that would make just about anyone want to walk away. But it’s his Dad and he feels obligated to care for the man and to try to make amends before it's too late. There is nothing redeeming about Willis. He’s a homophobic, misogynistic, angry old man whose vivid memories and quickly losing grasp of reality seem to torment him further. His adult children try their best to help him but he won’t have any of it.

It’s definitely one of those stories that feels familiar. Whether you’ve had a cranky aging family member or know someone who has, it echoes through the generations. But it’s also a commentary on how society is slowly changing. Willis frequently makes snide remarks about John’s sexuality and his partner, insisting on calling him ‘his boyfriend’, when in fact John and his partner are married. Willis even questions whether John is really gay or possibly confused. In Willis’ generation being openly gay was unheard of and he isn’t any closer to truly accepting his son’s sexuality now and may never be.

This film is dark and raw. It shows how our trauma from childhood is carried with us but it doesn’t have to weigh us down. John holds himself with integrity and patience and leaves us with the conclusion that sometimes all you can do is try but if someone doesn’t want your help you can’t force it on them, even when it comes to family.

The 39th annual Vancouver International Film Festival is online now until Oct 7.

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