2016, János Edelényi, Drama/Comedy
Diagnosed with a rare form of Parkinson’s Disease, ailing theatrical legend Sir Michael Gifford (Brian Cox) is terminally ill. He’s also foul-mouthed, irascible, and highly resistant to the concept of allowing a full time care giver into his home. Out of sheer necessity but hardly convicted at the notion herself, Sir Michael’s daughter Sophia (Emilia Fox) reluctantly brings in a candidate to interview for the job. Into this fraught household comes Dorottya, who is greeted coldly by Sophia and Michael’s estate manager and former lover Milly (Anna Chancellor) but nevertheless manages to convince them to allow her a chance.
Dorottya, an aspiring Hungarian actress herself in need of a day job, secretly hopes that this opportunity to care for Sir Michael will propel her own career onstage and endures his unbearable temperament. Their relationship gradually improves as Dorottya’s warming personality and knowledge of theatre begins to grow on the old lion. As Michael mellows however, Dorottya’s underlying ambitions become more transparent and estate staff become suspicious of her true purpose in applying for the job. When Sir Michael is offered a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Great Britain Critcs’ Guild, the increasingly contentious relationship between Dorottya, Sophia and Milly begins to climax as Dorottya encourages Michael to accept the award in person. Sophia however fears a final appearance by her father could prove catastrophic and forever taint his image should his illness be responsible for an accident onstage. The real drama begins to unfold when Sir Michael learns of his scheming daughter’s plans to remove Dorottya from his life, from whom he has regained a sense of meaning and vigor.
“Brian Cox rages vigorously against the dying of the light.”
“It’s funny, unexpected and profoundly moving.”
“Cox’s timing throughout is superb – a comic masterclass that gives way to storms of temper worthy of Lear.”
“The Hungarian director portrays, with the right amount of irony and tenderness, a relationship between two totally different people.” [Full review in Spanish] Read more
“…moments so compelling and entertaining the film is a cinematic gift.”
“This is Cox’s show, and he dives fully into the role of a cantankerous, hammy old thespian who isn’t remotely ready to go gentle into that good night.” Read more
“A barnstorming Brian Cox is the star attraction in The Carer, a sentimental, old-fashioned drama pitched somewhere between Sunset Boulevard and Ronald Harwood’s The Dresser.” Read more
“It’s a slight but touching story, and the film also makes some sharp observations about the immigrant experience. I liked it.” Read more
“Though the film is predictable and rather unsubtle, it’s worth watching for Cox’s virtuoso performance.” Read more
“Cox will always be watchable, and goes for it here, but the film’s makers seem not to know the potential of their own film.” Read more
“Cox carries it off with wit and flair, König is rather good to, and the screenplay has many witty touches.” Read more
“The Carer actually turns out to be better than most iterations of this hoary old set-up. It is all because there is some lasting fizz to the two effervescent lead performances on display here.” Read More
“Cox is in rambunctious form and has an obvious rapport with Konig” Read more
“The Carer emerges as a generally endearing, even heart-warming film that succeeds in spite of its flaws” Read more
“Those who love Shakespeare and great British acting should not pass up The Carer” Read more
“All of this is entirely predictable, but it is funnier than you might expect, with Cox grabbing numerous laughs along the way.” Read more
Q: Can you tell us a bit about The Carer?
A: It’s a film about old age and illness – and about not being defeated by these things. And it’s a film about a young person leaving her country, full of fear yet burning with ambition.
Q: What was the inspiration for the film?
Firstly, not long ago, I lost both my father and brother-in-law. The former shuffled off this mortal coil at the ripe old age of 83, but my wife’s younger brother, a television director of national acclaim, departed the world of the living at only 58 after six years of suffering. Secondly, although I admit it was too many years ago, I have also had the experience of leaving my homeland, my profession and early success as a young filmmaker, condemning myself to the rootless existence of the political refugee. My father’s one-year dance with death – involving frequent stays in hospital – lives on in my memory as a comedy double act, put on for our own amusement but also much to the enjoyment of his fellow inmates at the hospital. It also enabled us to laugh in the face of death. We were the Laurel and Hardy of the hospital ward, although we didn’t quote Shakespeare like SIR MICHAEL and DOROTTYA in the film, but the more slapstick lines that I had learned as a child. “Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into…”
Q: It sounds like you’ve based quite a lot of Sir Michael directly on your father?
A: Perhaps it’s wish-fulfilment. The real-world counterpart of the farewell ‘performance’ that forms the backbone of the film – symbolic of Sir Michael’s battle against the disease – was my father’s final addressing a meeting of the residents’ association in our apartment block. He had spent months practising his speech, but when he opened his mouth to deliver it, only an incomprehensible jumble of words came out. Nobody laughed at him, however. In fact, at the end of his ‘last great speech’ he was tearfully applauded.
Q: Through that process you obviously observed a great deal of detail which you’ve used in the film?
A: The dogged insistence on daily rituals was something I observed at close quarters throughout the protracted suffering of my brother-in-law. I also took much inspiration from the memory of how he was capable of flawlessly conducting the live transmission of the panel show that he directed, but during commercial breaks he was unable to find his way back from the gents to the control room. How he had lost the ability to say camera 1, camera 2, yet his hands mixed the images on the monitors with unfaltering precision. Later, in an institution reserved for the dying, it was through him that I saw how a shave, or the subsequent application of a fragrant aftershave lotion, could become the final bastion of human dignity. It was with my brother-in-law that we practiced communicating by SMS, creating a discourse increasingly littered with spelling mistakes, until the very last message, which my wife still carries around with her in the memory chip of her mobile phone.
Q: These are tragic details, yet your film is laced with humour. How do you combine the two?
A: Well, life combines them for me! But it’s true, this film is a vivid mix of comedy and tragedy. Perhaps that gives the film its unique character. No less important to me is the ‘double vision’ that derives from my own experience of being downgraded (or maybe promoted?) from a successful Hungarian film director to a van driver in Vienna – courtesy of the wise leaders of the Hungarian People’s Republic – and the way this affected my perception of the world around me. The wealthy citizens to whom I delivered the television sets sold by the home entertainment shop that employed me, and the tips that I used to ‘wangle’ out of them, were both my sources of income and waxwork figures of affluence that I could study with detachment.
Q: Many artists suffered under the censorship of those communist regimes. Did the experience embitter you?
A: I tried to learn from it! Moving country, changing occupation, entails a profound switch in perspective. In many ways, human beings all over the world are all the same. What is engrossing is the detail and the difference. As a film director, I am particularly fascinated by the idea of cinematographic clash. In this case, the conflict and – I hope – chemistry, between a great, disciplined English actor and a seemingly timid character with a truly Eastern European soul. Therefore, the film is a form of ‘double vision’, as I try to portray the customs and landscapes of England through Dorottya’s (and my own) “foreign” eyes, but also from the inside, as Sir Michael and most of his household perceive it. This inside view has been crafted in the finest detail by the much acclaimed and highly talented novelist, scriptwriter, essayist and critic Gilbert Adair and his long time collaborator, Tom Kinninmont, who – along with everything else that they bring to the table – help ensure that we avoid sentimentality.
Q: Tell me about your lead actor.
A: We were fortunate in attaching Brian Cox very early on, and the part of Sir Michael was developed specifically to play to his exceptional strengths. Brian can evoke all our images of the British Theatrical Knights and the range and power of their Shakespearian performances. This is a long tradition that encompasses both generosity and rivalry – from Gielgud and Olivier, through O’Toole and Harris, and today, I suppose, actors such as Michael Fassbender and Ralph Fiennes. It’s a rich tradition and Brian Cox is very much part of it. When we see Sir Michael on screen, the audience can bring to it both the image of Brian’s own career and those of his peers and predecessors. When he portrays the old thespian’s epic refusal to “go gentle into that good night” he’s emblematic of a great pantheon of English actors who “rage against the dying of the light” as Dylan Thomas so eloquently put it.
Q: And you have secured some great women too.
A: Yes, Anna Chancellor and Emilia Fox are exceptional talents with an instinctive understanding of the material. Emilia, of course, is from a great theatrical family: her mother, father, uncle, brother and cousins are all actors. She’s even connected to John Gielgud and Ellen Terry and was married to Richard Harris’s son, Jared. It’s not surprising if she found echoes in the part she plays as Sir Michael’s daughter. Anna Chancellor has a fascinating lineage too. It seems she’s somehow related to both Anne Boleyn and Jane Austen! Of course I didn’t know this when we cast her. I was just delighted to be working with such a brilliant actress. Anna has a way of investing a line with an arch or humorous significance that elevates it to a different level. She’s very contained – I don’t think she could overact if she tried – yet she provides a lot of the fun in the film. Coco Konig is a real find too. The Carer is her first film, but I see she’s already been cast in another – The Assassin’s Creed, with Michael Fassbender. I first watched her in a theatrical production directed by the just deceased Luc Bondy on the stage of the famed Berliner Ensemble. Coco is half Hungarian and half Austrian by birth, but recently appeared just as well in a production of the Parisian Odeon. So, I’m sure she has a great career ahead of her.
Q: Tell about your D.O.P.
A: Tibor Mathe is a legend in Hungary, the holder of the highest number of photography awards and professional accolades of anyone in the country. (Woyzeck, The Witman Boys, Opium and numerous others.) I worked with him before, on Prima Primavera, and his camera was able to make the film’s physical journey look much more expansive than we could have expected on our very tight budget. He’s a master of landscape – but especially the most expressive landscape of all: the human face. When preparing for The Carer, Tibor and I watched together quite a few times August, Osage County and the Chekhovian classic by Nikita Mikhalkov: Unfinished Pieces for the Player Piano. Both films are based upon stage plays, with dialogue and acting being the key factor in their success, yet the clever use and distribution of claustrophobic interiors and wide open exteriors, the enormous care with which natural and created light have been used, gave both films fantastic rhythm and added emotional depth.
Q: Any final thoughts?
A: I believe The Carer is, first and foremost, the actors’ film. Its success hinges on their skill and talent, and my job – everyone’s job – is to create the ‘perfect storm’ of script, direction, camerawork, sound, music and atmosphere that they need to truly shine. Fortunately, they shine very brightly indeed.
– János Edelényi, Director
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