There were 1,000 ways “The Carer” – one of the films selected for this year’s Fresno Film Festival – could go wrong. It’s a story about rejection, deterioration of aging and bitterness as dark as a black hole. But, director János Edelényi not only manages to avoid every pitfall, he turns each potential negative into moments so compelling and entertaining the film is a cinematic gift.
Most of the potential failings fell on Brian Cox in his portrayal of Sir Michael, a much honored and beloved British actor whose career has come to an end due to medical problems. In a world where Sir Michael had pondered “to be or not to be” so many times, he’s been left with only “not to be.”
Characters that carry so much pain that they lash out at even the most important people in their lives can become so unlikable the audience turns away in disgust. Cox manages to make Sir Michael engaging, even when he does vile things. That’s only possible with a first-rate performance and brilliant direction.
Sir Michael has dismissed a steady stream of caretakers with he wisp of a woman, Dorottya (Coco König), as his next potential victim. Their first encounter doesn’t go smoothly but the positive attitude of Dorottya coupled with her command of the works of Shakespeare earns her a little more time to make her case.
Edelényi does a masterful job of building the connections between the veteran actor and his new caretaker. He works slowly, a technique that makes the relationship ring with more truth and less of being a tempest.
As the director reveals Dorottya’s strength in small doses, he matches that with a slow ebb of the anger and pain that has been the veteran actor’s constant companion since his health began to spiral. This counterbalance of emotional design eventually reaches a point where they are of equal strength.
While the connections between Sir Michael and Dorottya are the heart of the film, Edelényi layers on the links between father and daughter, star and deep admirer plus boss and servant. Each plot line is an emotional treat that never detracts from the central plot but only serves to enhance it.
Cox covers a broad emotional range with the role nailing each change of tone. He’s just as believable as being one of the greatest actors to have ever strutted and fretted his way across the stage and he is as a man humbled by the way his body has given up on him.
His performance works even better because of König who brings a sweetness and strength to the role. She’s a perfect counter to what Cox is doing.
There are moments in the script where writers Gilbert Adair and Edelényi wade through patches of over sentimentality. This creates points where the film struggles a bit – such as an awards event at the end – but the actors keep the movie from being completely bogged down.
There’s nothing that original about the story of “The Carer” and that could have created one of the many ways the movie could have gone wrong. Performance by the entire cast, particularity Cox and König, show that when it comes to looking at the ravages of aging, a story doesn’t have to be much ado about nothing. It can be uplifting, warm, powerful and hopeful.