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That's how you become Hollywood's favorite playwright

Of course she senses that her son is not doing well.

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That's how you become Hollywood's favorite playwright

Of course she senses that her son is not doing well. Nicholas drifts through life discouraged. He can't tell her what's bothering him. When Kate learns that he hasn't been to school for weeks, she worries. But when she confronts Nicholas, his look scares her.

She can no longer cope with him alone and asks her ex-husband Peter for help. The successful, undoubtedly conscientious lawyer is in a new relationship and has just become a father again. But he immediately accepts his responsibility: Nicholas is to live with him and his new family.

That'll be fine for a while. And Nicholas' condition gets a name: he suffers from depression. Her reason also seems to be quickly identified: Nicholas has felt uprooted since her parents separated.

There are always difficult themes that Florian Zeller's light-footed dramas shoulder. In The Father it was dementia. The conflict in his second film plunges the relatives into a no less unbearable helplessness.

It's no use if the problems take place in a well-tempered, upper-class atmosphere, in spacious luxury apartments from which the world only appears as a distant backdrop. However, your solutions seem to be out there. Psychiatry also has advice in “The Son”. But she presents the parents with an impossible choice - between love and therapy.

Just like its predecessor, "The Son" doesn't hide its stage origins for a minute. That's less daring than clever: Zeller is a specialist in chamber play-like concentration.

It is the recipe for success that has made him the most performed French playwright in the world. This author is his own franchise. "The Son" is part of a trilogy that he has now completed with "The Mother". His forerunner into the cinema was the astute producer Philip Carcassonne, who acquired the rights to the father-son diptych early on, but is now only one of a dozen producers.

However, until Zeller took over directing himself, the adaptations of his stage successes had little success in cinemas. “Floride”, the first adaptation of “Der Vater”, only attracted attention in 2015 because Jean Rochefort had his last cinema appearance in it. Patrice Leconte staged "Just an hour's rest" as a pure finger exercise with boulevard-esque panache. “In love with my wife” by and with Daniel Auteuil has become a study in old-fashioned melancholy.

The filmmaker Zeller, on the other hand, knows how to stay true to himself. Seconded by his co-scenarist (and translator) Christopher Hampton, he relies on the well-oiled mechanics of conflict. It is the basis of a sensitivity that envelops and releases the characters at the same time.

The playwright is so popular with performers because the roles give them a lot of scope. They are firmly contoured, but can be smoothly transformed. Nicholas might fall silent in depression, but Zen McGrath gives the desperate search within himself a sparkle that's almost confident.

His mother might be more hysterical, but Laura Dern discovers Kate's robust vulnerability. His father might come to terms with his doubts, but Hugh Jackman's Peter poses the question of what is right in ever new variations.

Peter's new partner Beth could be more assertive in defending her territory, but Vanessa Kirby infuses her with confident patience. Peter's father Anthony, on the other hand, is allowed to become an archetypal Anthony Hopkins figure: a man full of ice coldness who never leaves the world in the dark about his insufficiency.

Two or three minutes of film are enough for Hopkins to convey the pressure that is passed on from generation to generation in this family. Jackman has two hours more time for that. The burden of expectations – of yourself: becoming a better father than your own; to his son: "normal" again, again a promise of a successful future - rest unspeakably heavily on Peter.

He gives up his political ambitions and only wants to be there for his family. His devotion calls for recovery, but becomes a process of wear and tear in which his actor changes visibly: Jackman's eyes lose their sparkle, the wrinkles dig deeper into his face, the three-day beard only looks unkempt.

The expectations that arise between fathers and sons could be taken as a cheeky metaphor for the making of the new film. It is not as smartly constructed as its predecessor, where the father's dementia became an immersive experience for the audience.

In "The Son" too, what seemed certain before is now called into question in the next moment. But this time the empathy is not due to a noble dramaturgical trick, but a question of temperature. Only a few color accents push into the cool, metallic tonality of the images. They are not glimmers of hope. The color spectrum is as narrow as that of a depression.

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