Many directors who achieve huge success with debut films struggle with what to do next. No Florian Zeller. The French playwright-turned-director won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for co-writing the 2020 drama. the father, was already hard at work on its sequel while navigating the awards circus this year.
Zeller, working with his co-author Christopher Hampton, was determined to adapt his 2018 play The son– a story centered on divorced parents whose teenage son struggles with mental illness. Zeller, who spent the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown writing the script, calls The sonwhich is part of a trilogy of plays that also includes the mother, his most personal work.
Zeller’s work has a knack for wringing uncomfortable emotions from the audience. with the father, we looked like a woman (Olivia Colman) witnessed his father unravel as he fell deeper into the depths of dementia (Antony Hopkins, in an Oscar-winning performance). in the son which will debut at the Venice Film Festival on September 7th ahead of a November 11th theatrical release from Sony Pictures Classics, parents played by Hugh Jackman and Laura Dern struggle to understand their teenage son (Zen McGrath) increasingly angry at life – and their attempts to help him often lead to disaster.
“It’s so hard to be a good father or a good mother and deal with a situation where you don’t know what to do anymore,” said Zeller, who has a son and stepson with his wife Marine Delterm. He recalls how, after the play debuted in Paris, audience members came up to him afterward to share their own experiences with mental health and family issues. “That’s when I really realized that so many people related to it,” he says. “There is so much shame and ignorance around mental health issues that this was a way for me to share what I learned and also start a conversation.”
In Film (Awards Insider debuts new exclusive images from The son here), Nicholas can only describe it as a crushing weight, taking away his will to live. This ambiguity only heightens his parents’—and the audience’s—frustration about how to fix it.
“As an audience member, what I really like is being in an active position; not just sit back and watch a story that’s already been written and told, but be part of the narrative and be active,” Zeller says. “It’s a way to open up the conversation and not run away from these topics, because I know it takes time to face the right questions. And sometimes that’s the time we don’t have to avoid tragedy.”