‘Father’ (2022) Review: A Man's Journey to be Reunited with His Children

Nuha Hassan reviews Father, a Serbian film based on the true story of a man who walked to Belgrade to reunite with his children.

‘Father’ (2022) Review: A Man's Journey to be Reunited with His Children
Goran Bogdan as Nikola

by Nuha Hassan

Srdan Golubović’s Father (Otac) is a Serbian film based on true events about a man who walked to Belgrade from the village to have his children returned back to him. The film begins with a gruelling and viscerally disturbing scene of a mother setting herself on fire in front of her two children. However, the rest of the movie doesn’t feature scenes as shocking as the opening scene. The film focuses on a penniless father walking on foot to talk to the government office himself in Belgrade. Father is about how tyrants take advantage of poor people living in rural areas and also how social workers and politicians exploit people for their own gain. A deeply moving and compelling film, Father looks at a father’s silent protest and his fight to bring his children back to him.

The film begins with Biljana (Nada Šargin) as she drags her two children to the grounds of the factory that employed her husband Nikola (Goran Bogdan). He was let go from the factory two years ago, and she demanded they pay her husband his salary plus the severance pay. Since there is no money to put food on the table and her children are hungry, she unscrews a water bottle full of petrol, pours it on herself and sets herself on fire in protest of the injustice. Her children watch as she burns before onlookers at the factory rush to put the fire out and tackle her to the ground.

Meanwhile, Nikola immediately runs to the factory when he hears about his wife’s protest suicide and nervous breakdown. The doctor informs him that she will be taken to a psychiatric ward to recover and their traumatised kids are taken away by social services. The social workers decided that for his children to come back to their home, Nikola must abide by the law and provide basic needs for them, so he scraps up his last remaining resources and fixes some of the requirements set by social services. However, Vasiljević (Boris Isaković), the tyrant who gets to decide whether Nikola is fit to provide for his children, exploits them for his own gain and does not allow the father to see his children unless he has a full-time job. Unable to find any other solution, Nikola plans to file an appeal by walking 300 km on foot for five days and nights.

Nikola higs one of his children while looking ahead with intensity.

Father holds a very dramatic and emotional journey for Nikola. It’s a protest for freedom and the right to bring his children back to him; the film looks at how rich tyrants and politicians exploit poor people for their own benefits. He knows that he has to push through to get his children back from an unfair system that takes advantage of poor families. He walks alone and meets people who either encourage him or discourage his efforts. But all he says is, “My children must know I fought for them.” That is his only explanation and it’s valid enough for Nikola, as well as the audience. He faces a lot of perils while on his cross-country journey to Belgrade such as fainting due to exhaustion and hunger, but that doesn’t stop him and he keeps moving on knowing that if he waits any longer he might not be able to get his children back.

When Nikola makes his way to the office in Belgrade, journalists and morning news shows have already become aware of his journey. When his appeal becomes public, the Assistant Minister agrees to meet with him, but it’s only to save face. After Nikola’s appeal is looked over and his situation sympathised with, the Assistant Minister asks him to take a picture for social media. It quickly dawns on the audience that the public servant was never going to help Nikola. There isn’t any way for Nikola to fight a corrupted system, regardless of where he stood and the public servants knew that he didn’t have the luxury to do that. After meeting the Assistant Minister, it puts Nikola in a more difficult position with Vasiljević, who still refuses to allow the children to meet their father. Vasiljević threatens the father and tells him that he can make it more difficult for him since he knows people who work in the courts. He uses his power to take advantage of people’s families, and it somehow indicates that this particular servant doesn’t care about the well-being of his family.

Nikola looks at a government employee.

Father shows how people are quick to exploit other people’s ill fortunes. Nikola quietly endures the pain and exploitation, and rarely bursts into anger. Much like Bogdan’s performance, there is restraint and an emotional turmoil that cuts through the movie. The battles are hard to fight, but for Nikola (and even the audience) there is a small victory in protesting against a government system that exploits vulnerable and poor people. There are so many powerful layers that add to the father’s determination to be reunited with his children. But insensitivity and manipulation run at the root of humanity’s problems and that are how people operate around the world. Golubovićn is an emotional and cathartic journey of a penniless father who loves his children unconditionally, and it speaks on the realities of impoverished families in Serbia.

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