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‘Falling’: Film Review

Source: Variety.
Found By: Lindi

Thanks to Lindi for the find at Variety.


Lance Henriksen gives the performance of his career as an emasculated father facing dementia, but it's writer-director-star Viggo Mortensen who makes the film’s universal themes resonate so strongly.

Image Caitlin Cronenberg.
© Hanway Films.
By Peter DeBruge

Viggo Mortensen may have three Oscar nominations to his name, but I get the feeling most folks still don't take the guy seriously enough. Maybe they don't realize that, in addition to his acting work, Mortensen is also a painter, a poet, a photographer and a musician. When "The Lord of the Rings" made him rich, he used some of that money to launch an indie publishing label, Perceval Press. And between high-profile projects, he went out of his way to collaborate with European auteurs such as Lisandro Alonso ("Jauja") and David Oelhoffen ("Far From Men"), comfortably acting in languages other than English (he speaks seven).

So what kind of directorial touch should we expect from such a Renaissance man? Will his first feature turn out to be basic and broad, like the meatball chauffeur he played in "Green Book," or more poetic, informed by his work with relatively esoteric-minded art-house helmers? The answer, you may not be surprised to learn, is a little of both. More deeply felt than your typical American debut, "Falling" is unpretentious and perfectly accessible to mainstream audiences. Mortensen's patience, his way with actors and his trust in our intelligence are not unlike late-career Eastwood, which isn't a bad place to be so early in one's directing career.

Drawing on his own upbringing while touching on universal themes of family and loss, Mortensen reimagines the relationship with his parents — doting mother, difficult father — through the protective filter of fiction. In the process, the actor reminds that his best work comes from a place of emotional vulnerability. Dad was clearly a piece of work, portrayed here as a scorpion-tempered patriarch who dominated his family for decades (roughly half the movie takes place in flashback, featuring Sverrir Gudnason as Willis, the tough-love father), growing even more difficult with the onset of dementia (as seen in the present, where Lance Henriksen brings the hellfire).

The film takes place over roughly a week, as Willis leaves his Midwestern farm to seek lodging closer to his son in California — which is like escaping the viper's nest, only to invite the snake back into one's home. Despite being a consistent challenge, Willis isn't a villain, at least not in Mortensen's eyes. His script manages to be tough yet tender while remaining objective enough not to do a "Mommie Dearest"-style hit job on his dad. Selected for the closing-night slot of the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, "Falling" feels like a cross between two other Park City premieres of recent vintage: Shia LaBeouf's transparently therapeutic "Honey Boy" and Paul Dano's 1960s-set "Wildlife," in which a bitter divorce serves as the crucible from which an artistic teenager forges his independence.

The movie packs two big surprises: First, Mortensen plays gay, which isn't the case in real life. The choice serves to heighten the conflict between his character, John, and his immigrant father. Second, it gives erstwhile action star Henriksen (Bishop in "Aliens") an unprecedented opportunity to actually act.

Now pushing 80, Henriksen already looked grizzled by the time he hit 40, and that quality — a raw Marlboro Man toughness written on his face and carved into his cheeks — serves the character well, extending to Willis' stubborn cigarette habit. He's similarly unfiltered in his remarks, taunting others with off-color quips about "Negros" and "fairies" and "whores" the way a mean-streak teen tosses cherry bombs, determined to provoke a reaction. "I promised myself I was not going to rise to the bait and engage in another big blowout," John says at one point.

The film doesn't give in to such grudges either, preferring a more oblique approach to revealing the source of the scars left by such parenting. If you don't count Willis' words to his infant son — "I'm sorry I brought you into this world so you could die" — the first sign that he's not the great father young John (Grady McKenzie) idealized comes when slightly older John (Etienne Kellici) overhears his mom (Hannah Gross) on the couch sobbing while listening to a recording of Chopin's Waltz in C Sharp Minor. (Mortensen composed and performed the gentle piano score.)

"Falling" isn't just about father-son dynamics; it's also reflective of Mortensen's relationship with his mother, who died relatively young. While it's a bit simplistic to imply that John, a "momma's boy," should grow up to be gay, it's clear Mortensen appreciates how difficult coming out would be for someone raised by such an authoritarian (pursuing an artistic career may have been similar for him, whereas John went off and joined the Air Force). The way Mortensen signifies John's homosexuality, by unabashedly kissing his Asian American partner (Terry Chen) in front of his disapproving and racist dad, makes no big deal of that identity but speaks volumes about the many off-screen arguments that have brought them to this detente.

Meanwhile, Henriksen portrays Willis as someone who, bitter in his old age, rejects John's help at every turn. It won't take a mental-health professional to recognize that Willis has control issues, which lends an added dimension of tragedy to his dementia. Mortensen elegantly, intuitively weaves past and present throughout the film, inviting just enough ambiguity for us to wonder whose point of view we're getting: Do these flashbacks belong to John, or are they windows into Willis' subjectivity — an attempt by the son to better understand his father?

"Falling" ends with a lovely scene that ought not to be spoiled here. Suffice to say, it pays off a question asked by Willis' adoptive granddaughter (Gabby Velis), revealing another character's final words and what was going through that person's head at the time. Mortensen also carves out a small but impactful role for Laura Linney as John's adult sister, who does her own version of walking on eggshells around the combustible Willis. It took long enough for someone to entrust a part as tricky as this to Henriksen, whose plunge pays off in Mortensen's sensitive hands.

'Falling': Film Review

Reviewed at United Talent Agency, Jan. 17, 2019. (In Sundance Film Festival.) Running time: 112 MINS.

Production: A Perceval Pictures, Ingenious Media presentation, in association with HanWay Films, Scythia Films, Zephyr Films. (Int'l sales: UTA Independent Film Group, Los Angeles.) Producers: Viggo Mortensen, Daniel Bekerman, Chris Curling. Executive producers: Danielle Virtue, Brian Hayes Currie, Peter Touche, Stephen Dailey, Peter Hampden.

Crew: Director, writer: Viggo Mortensen. Camera: Marcel Zyskind. Editor: Ronald Sanders. Music: Mortensen.

With: Lance Henriksen, Viggo Mortensen, Terry Chen, Laura Linney,, Sverrir Gudnason, Hannah Gross.

© Variety. Images © Sundance.

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Lance Henriksen stars as Viggo Mortensen's difficult father in the latter's directing debut.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter.
Found By: Lindi

Thanks to Lindi for the find from The Hollywood Reporter.


"As intelligent and sensitive a directing debut as you'd expect, and a highlight of Henriksen's career."

Image Falling BTS.
© Sundance.
By John DeFore

Having quietly spent years augmenting his acting work with prodigious output in music, poetry and visual arts (not to mention founding a publishing house that champions other artists' work), Viggo Mortensen finally takes the director's chair in Falling, a masterful family drama taking a compassionate view of a father whose faults are impossible to ignore. Playing the son who must now care for him through bouts of dementia while absorbing his insults, Mortensen co-stars with Lance Henriksen, a beloved character actor who has almost certainly never had such a meaty part — with 250 roles on his IMDb page, one can't claim to have watched them all — and who undeniably rises to the occasion. Sundance attendees shouldn't read anything into programmers' placement of this artful film at the tail end of the schedule: This will be one of the fest's most assured directing debuts, and is sure to move viewers whether or not their own families contain a figure as problematic as Henriksen's Willis Petersen.

We see Willis first as a young man — played by Sverrir Gudnason (Borg vs. McEnroe), who both looks like he could've been Mortensen's father and, as the film weaves through its then-and-now storytelling, captures how genuine paternal pride and love for his wife are poisoned by fundamental emotional flaws.

Bringing his wife Gwen (Hannah Gross) and newborn son home from the hospital, he stands in the kitchen, holds the baby still while Gwen fetches a clean diaper, and bends over to gently say, "I'm sorry I brought you into this world. To die."

Moving to the present, Willis has acknowledged (in an increasingly rare clear-headed moment) that he can no longer maintain the upstate New York farm where he lives alone, having chased two wives away. He's flying to California with his grown son John (we'll meet John's sister, played by Laura Linney, later), and is having a confused episode. Willis believes the plane is his old farmhouse; thinks Gwen is upstairs; and disturbs both passengers and crew. John does his best to calm him, and the film flashes back to one of the moments that cemented his sense of filial duty: Willis, out by a lake with the 4-year-old John (Grady McKenzie), patiently helping him shoot his first duck, then cheerfully allowing him to treat the dead bird like a pet until it's time to cook and eat it.

Mortensen (who also wrote the screenplay) moves back and forth like this throughout — both to gently illustrate Willis' failings as a husband and father, and to suggest how the old man is experiencing the world today. His confusion about facts is easy to understand, but Mortensen and editor Ronald Sanders use frequent glimpses of the outdoors to add dimension to the character's emotional life. There's nothing Malicky about Willis' connection to nature here, but his obvious affinity for its pleasures makes his inability to connect with humans who love him more poignant.

Willis is a homophobe whose son is gay. As he settles into the home John shares with his husband, Eric (Terry Chen), and daughter Monica (Gabby Velis), he relishes needling the two men, allowing himself to forget, say, that Eric's ancestry isn't Japanese. He speaks freely and loudly about sexuality, genially throwing slurs around in a museum or restaurant. He's also given to casually calling his ex-wives "whores." He sees betrayal everywhere; his fantasies of being cuckolded may have been self-fulfilling prophesies, and play out for him in an eternal present tense: Both women have died, but he rants as if they're quietly in the next room, cavorting with the mailman.

Despite his disregard for others' feelings, Willis is able to connect warmly with the couple's daughter, who overlooks his inappropriateness and calls him her friend. All these contradictions and more fit seamlessly into Henriksen's agile, engaging performance; few moviegoers who've enjoyed him over the years will be surprised, but many will resent that we, and he, have waited so long for a role like this.

Mortensen, who reportedly only agreed to act in his film to secure financing, makes John uncommon among the many adults we've watched cope with difficult parents in indie films. He's not self-righteous or comically exasperated, doesn't quietly complain to Eric about his plight, doesn't rise to the bait his father dangles in front of him. He has fought with him in the past, and grown. Now, he lets insults sail by and patiently adjusts plans to suit Willis' capriciousness. Clearly, this is because John is more decent than those of us who might cut our losses with a similar family member. But perhaps it's also because the past is as alive for him as for Willis: Maybe John is still the mop-headed kid who soaked up his father's approval when he aimed that rifle and shot, and whose father said there was no harm in letting him bathe that beautiful dead duck, dry it by the fire and keep it beside him in bed. Falling doesn't transform its emotional landscape into a simple question of rejection or forgiveness. It's comfortable knowing that meanness and affection can exist in the same person, and that tolerance, even when it only flows in one direction, benefits both giver and recipient.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival (Premieres)
Production companies: Perceval Pictures, Scythia Films, Zephyr Films
Cast: Lance Henriksen, Viggo Mortensen, Terry Chen, Sverrir Gudnason, Hannah Gross, Laura Linney
Director/screenwriter/composer: Viggo Mortensen
Producers: Viggo Mortensen, Daniel Bekerman, Chris Curling
Executive producers: Danielle Virtue, Brian Hayes Currie, Peter Touche, Stephen Dailey, Peter Hampden, Norman Merry
Director of photography: Marcel Zyskind
Production designer: Carol Spier
Costume designer: Anne Dixon
Editor: Ronald Sanders
Casting director: Deirdre Bowen
Sales: Nick Shumaker, Jim Meenaghan, UTA
112 minutes

© The Hollywood Reporter. Images © Sundance.

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‘Falling’ Film Review: Viggo Mortensen’s Directorial Debut Is a Dark Family Drama

Source: The Wrap

* * * SPOILERS * * *

Sundance 2020: The actor turned writer-director has made a beautifully controlled drama about age, memory and forgiveness.

Image Caitlin Cronenberg.
© Hanway Films.
By Steve Pond

If there's one word that comes to mind with Viggo Mortensen's directorial debut, "Falling," it's control.

"Falling," which was written and directed by the actor, poet, artist and musician who was last seen at Sundance in what would be an Oscar-nominated turn in "Captain Fantastic," has made a beautifully controlled drama about age, memory and forgiveness — and at its heart are two men, one trying desperately to be controlled in his own life and one who is anything but controlled.

The film, which had its first press and industry screening at the Sundance Film Festival on Friday, is a restrained, quiet drama except when its characters explode. The filmmaking is subtle, but the emotions it explores are not.

Lance Henriksen, best known for his roles in the "Alien" movies and in "Millennium," plays Willis, an aging man who has spent his entire life being intolerant and intractable and is battling a dementia that simply adds levels of randomness and hysteria to his already difficult nature. Mortensen plays his son, John, who tries to put decades of bad memories behind him as he brings his father from an isolated New York farm to Los Angeles, where Willis can be close to the families of both of his children, John and Sarah (Laura Linney).

Willis and L.A. are not a good fit: "California is for c—suckers and flag-burners," he announces pointedly as he settles in uneasily to live with John, John's husband, Eric (Terry Chen), and their daughter, Monica (Gabby Velis). But John does what he can to ignore the taunts and homophobic insults, to be calm in the face of a man who has been provoking him for his entire life.

The film is intricately constructed, jumping back and forth in time and moving in and out of the fading memories of a man who was often as not a jerk with a cigarette in his mouth and a beer in his hand. Henriksen finds occasional shades of likability in a man who is consumed by anger and uninterested in repairing the damage he caused in his family, but his frightening performance is one fashioned in darkness.

As a director, Mortensen doesn't make things easy for himself: We figure that a film like this is headed for some kind of redemption, but Willis seems completely irredeemable for much of the film. But Mortensen is too smart to go for an easy reconciliation, instead exploring shades of resignation and acceptance, particularly in the wake of an argument that can stand as a father/son version of the one in "Marriage Story" — primal and fearsome, it goes to places so dark that all the characters can do afterwards it attempt to crawl out of the wreckage.

At one point, John rails at his father that he has never, ever apologized for anything he's done, but as viewers we know that's not true: In the opening scene of the movie, Willis (played in flashbacks by Sverrir Gudnason) looks at his baby son and says, "I'm sorry I brought you into the world so you could die."
The film does not embrace that fatalism, but neither does it pretend that these people can ever really escape it. "Falling" is a finely drawn character drama, as you might expect from much of Mortensen's acting career, and a film that pays attention to small details that bring these people to life.

Mortensen wrote the film after his mother's funeral, when he began recalling incidents from his own childhood, then turned them into fictional scenes loosely inspired by his memories. The first card in the end credits reads "For Charles and Walter Mortensen," but it's not too difficult to figure out that this one is really for Viggo Mortensen.

© The Wrap. Images © Sundance.

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Viggo at Sundance

Arriving yesterday . . .

Looking a little preppy tonight.

Images © Getty.

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Viggo Interview via Deadline & Sundance

Source: Deadline.
Found By: Lindi

Thanks to Lindi for the find.


Viggo Mortensen On ‘Falling’ Into A New Phase Of His Career With Directing Debut Set To World Premiere At Sundance

Image Falling BTS.
© Sundance.
By Pete Hammond

EXCLUSIVE: Viggo Mortensen is returning to the Sundance Film Festival for the first time since 2016 when Captain Fantastic made a big splash and led eventually to a Best Actor Oscar nomination for the star. This time however he is adding director and screenwriter to his resume, with his behind the camera debut, Falling, which is set to officially close the festival and is part of the Premieres section but will start screening on Friday. I was invited to see it ahead of time a few weeks ago at a UTA screening and a few days later sat down in a Santa Monica restaurant to talk about the film with its director and co-star.

Falling is produced by Daniel Bekerman (The Witch, Percy) of Scythia Films and Chris Curling (The Bookshop, The Last Station) of Zephyr Films together with Mortensen, who previously produced Everyone Has a Plan, Far from Men and Jauja through Perceval Pictures. Executive producers are Peter Touche and Stephen Dailey for Ingenious Media, Danielle Virtue and Brian Hayes Currie for Falling, LLC and Norman Merry for Lip Sync Productions.

Mortensen is of course best known as an actor who has won three Oscars nominations for films that also include Eastern Promises, and last year's Best Picture winner Green Book. Of course his on- screen work contains such memorable and varied credits as the Lord of the Rings trilogy, A History of Violence, A Walk on the Moon, Hildalgo, and Appaloosa among many others, but the 61-year-old actor has never gotten to fulfill an ambition to direct until now. He has written four screenplays that for various reasons never made it to production, but it was this one which he conceived during a plane ride following his mother's funeral. As he jotted down memories it evolved into not just thinking about his mother, but then his father. Eventually it became more invention than his own life story, and he managed to complete a first draft in a swift two weeks that has brought him again to Sundance, not just as an actor but finally a filmmaker as writer/director. The result was well worth the wait and the subject matter of a son's relationship with a father edging into dementia is a story that will likely hit close to home to many viewers in emotional and surprising ways. Mortensen says that even though his father, mother, grandparents and uncle all suffered from dementia, and that the film is dedicated to his two other brothers, this is not an autobiographical story but one that sprung out of many places and it just suddenly all came to him, like a dream, on that plane. It finally became a story of a fictional family that shares traits of his own.

"A few days after I got home I said I'm just going to look at this thing because I ended up writing a short story sort of. On the plane I couldn't sleep so I just kept writing and then it just became something that had nothing to do with my family but this story. I read it. You know how sometimes if you wake up in the middle of the night and you write an idea down and you think that was great and in the morning you look at it and go it's silly. You record it or you write it. What was I thinking? I should drink," he laughed. "Then I read that and actually it was the story and I thought that's pretty interesting. I said maybe it's a book or something or short novel. Then the way it's structured with flashbacks and scenes, which was basically in the story, it was very visual. I mean I can picture it. If I can picture it, maybe it's a movie. I was working on this other one. Sort of procrastinating and getting back to the other one, I was in a sort of limbo waiting for somebody to say if they were going to put up money. So I started writing and I wrote it much quicker than any of the other scripts. It was only a couple weeks and there it was."

He kept working on it, rewriting, structuring the complex storytelling in the film that plays with memory in interesting way, and finally he decided to just start shooting and found the rest of the financing as they went along. Even though there was a limited time to shoot it, he prepared well ahead of time and worked really hard on the casting. When festivalgoers, buyers, and critics see the richly drawn and devastating human drama that emerged they will also know he hit pay dirt with his star, Lance Henriksen, the 79 year old character actor known for movies like Aliens and The Terminator who gets the role of a lifetime as Willis, the difficult father, with increasing short-term memory problems, while still living on the rural farm where his family grew up including son John (Mortensen) who now lives in Southern California with his partner Eric (Terry Chen). When John brings his father out to stay with them while he and his sister (Laura Linney) try to figure out where he might retire, Willis's increasing agitation, both extremely caustic and startling, brings decades-old wounds and divisions between father and son boiling over to the surface. The script is non-linear and contains many flashbacks. Mortensen set the film in 2008, right around the time of Obama's election, another divisive point between the pair. Henriksen, despite his long career, is a revelation in a role that with any bit of luck could put him in next year's awards conversations. Of course the film has to find the right distribution and that is what Mortensen is hoping to find out of Sundance. The cast also includes Sverrir Gudnason and Hannah Gross.

He knew Henriksen from working with him in Appaloosa, the film directed by actor Ed Harris. "I just got to know him a little bit. I just felt he was right, somehow, even though he hadn't done anything like this. Then people said it'll be a lot easier for you to raise the money if you could get a name, somebody who's more known or something. I said, no, he's the right guy. When people said to me why do you want him I said because I think that he is going to become special and it'll allow people to sort of recognize his face. He's done like 250 movies I think. They'll rediscover him. Those who don't know him, they'll be like, 'Who's that?'" he said.

The role is a difficult one to pull off and Mortensen's character has the patience of a saint until one extraordinary scene where he finally loses it completely, something any grown child of a parent who is beginning to fail will recognize. Some backers worried that the guy is too much of an asshole from start to finish, that he's relentless. " I said I think it's a good story. He just says what's on his mind and does whatever he wants, even before he had dementia. And even if you don't want to live with that person there's something appealing about people who are free in the sense they don't care what you think.' I'm going to say whatever I think. I'm going to live exactly the way I want to. I'm not going to make accommodation for anyone'. That's attractive, although you might not want to live in the same house. I think the character is also at times funny. They go 'funny? He's not funny at all. He's blisteringly a downer'. I go, 'no, he's going to be funny and attractive'. They go 'not at all attractive'. I said 'you'll see'. I mean I just believed it would work with him."

The challenges of making the film were immense, his shooting days reduced for financial reasons so he found locations that fit the bill and let him shoot as much as possible in 25 days in Canada and then a few days in Los Angeles. He needed snow and he was lucky it started snowing just on the Sunday before they began the Canadian locations which made things a little easier. They shot like mad that first week to make sure they got everything weather-wise. He estimates the budget after post-production and all is around six million. It looks great. Cinematographer was Marcel Zyskind.

Although this is his first motion picture writing and directing credit Mortensen has always been unique among actors I know, with an interest in trying many different aspects of the arts, and learning from each one and other directors he has worked with including his Eastern Promises and A History of Violence director David Cronenberg who has a role in Falling, however briefly. "I've been doing that always. I mean whether it's painting or poetry or any kind of art medium, movies for sure, I'm drawn to stories that however the director manages it, draw me in rather than telling me this is what's happening and you should pay attention, " he said while mentioning another inspiring moment he had up in the air. "It was almost exactly a year ago I was on a plane flight and sitting next to (the late) Agnes Varda. That might have been her last plane flight. She was not well. We talked about that. I was actually sitting near where her daughter, Rosalie, was. I was talking to her. I said I love your mom's movies. I always thought her ideas in terms of photography and movie-making, storytelling were really good. And she asked if I want to sit next to her. So we just swapped. We talked about everything. One thing she said, which goes to this thing I was saying about not telling people what to think or what to do, how to see your movie, she said something to the effect of don't show things. Give people the desire to see things. In other words, by virtue of the quality of your storytelling, the way you shoot it, in a non-showy way just make people want to come in… Come on in. Just sort of open the door and walk away. That was her style. I always wanted to tell it that way."

So this week at Sundance his first film in telling it his way premieres. He thinks it is the perfect festival for an independent North American story and he's hoping to find a distributor, like many other films on view, but it is important to get the right one. "So I do think it's a good place to start, and it gives us a chance to find somebody who wants to put it in movie theaters," he said and added when I asked about the possibility of a streaming service, "I'm open to anything, but I like to see a movie in a movie theater." Mortensen is very keen on the sound design and thinks that is ideal because the better the sound system, the better the experience. "We worked really hard. It's been a long road," he said. "You never know how people are going to look at a movie. You just have to make it and be faithful to what you're seeing, and hope other people like it. As William Goldman said, 'nobody knows anything.'"

© Deadline. Images © Sundance.

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Last edited: 23 February 2020 23:13:39