EIFF 2012: ‘Fred’ has some potency, but is too light to leave a strong impression

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Fred
Written and directed by Richard Ledes
USA, 2012

The titular character of Richard Ledes’ new film, played by Elliott Gould, is an elderly man living with his wife Susan (Judith Roberts), a sufferer of Alzheimer’s. Often at odds with Susan’s endlessly patient live-in nurse, Fred demonstrates frustration at his wife’s condition; not dismissive with contempt, but upset at Susan’s increasing failure to be “present”. Fred himself is also beginning to lose his own functionality in various ways, and the film’s little narrative focus concerns his two children, Bob (Fred Melamed) and Carol (Stephanie Roth Haberie), trying to arrange for both their parents to move to a full-time home. Having lived in the country house for over fifty years, Fred is resilient to change and eager to hang on what is left of his relationship with his wife and residence.

Relegated to the interiors and gardens of this one household, Fred is a deliberately intimate film, albeit one that is not extremely welcoming. With what is very much a fly-on-the-wall style, bar some attempts at spiritual imagery, there is little narrative drive, the film instead offering uncomfortable but realistic depictions of the scenarios the family finds themselves in over the course of a few days. Much of the film’s strengths relate to some of its performances, especially Gould and Roberts, and there are some potent emotional scenes. The film’s overall approach and execution, though, is a bit too light to elicit more than small bursts of sorrow. There are a few touches of banter-based comedy here and there, but the viewer is generally kept at a strong distance. It’s a deliberate decision to keep one as an outsider in relation to the family, but it does mean the film never succeeds in leaving a dynamic, lasting impression.

Josh Slater-Williams

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