Srdan Golubović’s unflinching realist drama opens with a scene of devastating protest against injustice. It might make what follows pale somewhat by comparison, but this preface also acts as catalyst and justification for the trials that Nikola, the eponymous father and an impoverished jobbing labourer, puts himself through in the course of the film. Following this incident Nikola is deemed incapable of looking after his two children and sees them removed by the social services of the provincial Serbian town where he lives. Despite appealing the decision, and complying with all requirements, the head of the bureaucracy refuses to return his kids. Nikola suspects the official has an ulterior motive for the refusal, and he decides to set out on foot on a five-day / five-night 200-mile cross country hike to Belgrade to make his case to the National Ministry.
This pilgrimage of sorts occupies the lengthy mid-section of Father and plays like a a more desperate Wim Wenders road movie. The cinematography captures the unlikely poetry of the abandoned buildings in which Nikola spends his nights, and dispassionately records his increasing desperation as hunger and exhaustion start to take their toll. As Nikola, Goran Bogdan (a celebrated Bosnian tv actor) takes the trek in his stride - it’s an accomplished, often wordless performance that is compelling to watch as he stoically keeps going, his determination palpably evident through his unchanging expression. There’s a glimmer of surreal hope when he reaches Belgrade, where he discovers that his story has been picked up by the media and his celebrity is sufficient to prompt requests for selfies from the ministry officials, but the film refuses to romantically soften the extremities of Nikola’s plight. Father remains at its conclusion a damning indictment of corruption and indifference, and a paean to the gritty determination of the individual.
Father has won numerous festival awards, such as the Film Critics Award for Best Actor at the 2021 Dublin IFF, the CEI Award for Best Film and the Audience Award for Best Feature-Length Film at the 2021 Trieste Film Festival and the Panorama Audience Award for Fiction Film at Berlinale 2020. It also won the Best International Feature Award at the 2020 Calgary IFF.
‘Bogdan… delivers a towering performance that somehow still manages to project smallness, as his ordinary-man character is progressively whittled down by outside forces until all that’s left is this rangy personification of utterly single-minded will.’ – Jessica Kiang, Variety.
‘A parable on conviction and peaceful protest standing up against corruption, in the end Father manages to remain moving and hopeful.’ - Graeme Strachan, The Wee Review.